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Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox defies quarantine in Maine, goes bike riding

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(CNN) -- Negotiations over where a Maine nurse can be allowed to go have failed, Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday, and he's going to "exercise the full extent of his authority" to keep Kaci Hickox away from public places.

The state is now saying it doesn't want to confine Hickox, who recently returned to the United States after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone with the organization Doctors Without Borders.

They want the nurse -- who has twice tested negative for Ebola and says she feels healthy -- to avoid public places such as stores for 21 days. That's the deadly virus' incubation period. Much of that period in her case is already up; it is set to end the second week in November.

Thursday morning, Hickox caused an uproar when she and her boyfriend, both staying at his home in Fort Kent, headed out for a bike ride. They returned in an hour, and were met by a throng of journalists watching her every move.

The state has made it clear it's going to do something. But what?

Thursday morning around 8:30 a.m. ET, before the bicycle sojourn, one of Hickox's attorneys, Norm Siegel, appeared on CNN.

"The worst thing would be is if she steps out of her house in the next hour and they try to put handcuffs on her," he said.

He noted that Maine authorities must obtain a court order before they make any movement to arrest or detain her. Once that order is secured, her legal team would have three days to challenge it.

He said he hoped a conversation between her legal team and Maine officials would produce a "reasonable" compromise.

LePage later released a statement: "As a result of the failed effort to reach an agreement, the governor will exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law."

What could be next?

State troopers have been parked outside Hickox's boyfriend's home. When the two went out for their bike ride, law enforcement vehicles followed them.

There has been no moves to detain or arrest her.

"If we're going to have a disagreement, let's have the disagreement in a court of law, not in the streets of Maine," Siegel said.

When she returned from a month in Sierra Leone last week, Hickox had a temperature at an airport in Newark, New Jersey, officials said. She was put into an isolation tent.

She blasted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for enforcing a new policy that required anyone who was showing symptoms of Ebola, including an elevated temperature, to be isolated.

Since returning to Maine, she has said in numerous interviews that she feels healthy.

Siegel told CNN that the couple went for the bike ride to make a point: She could be out in public "without freaking everyone out."

"You can take a bike ride, be in the public and not actually interact with people," Siegel said. "We thought this was a good way to exercise her right. We didn't want anyone in the town to be scared, even though the fear is based in misinformation."

Looking for a resolution

On Wednesday, Gov. LePage said that Hickox "has been unwilling to follow the protocols set forth by the Maine CDC and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients."

The statement didn't say which protocols she was resisting but added that LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce a quarantine.

Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Wednesday that the process to file a court order has already begun. Mayhew cited concerns about Hickox's hands-on role in dealing with Ebola patients, as well as "concerns about the lack of reliability and the lack of trustworthiness in the information that has been received."

"You need to be able to have trust and credibility in that information," she said. "That makes her a higher risk."

Mayhew also blasted what she called "the lack of leadership at the federal level" that has created "a patchwork quilt of state-by-state determinations," vowing that "we will not stand by and exacerbate the situation in Maine."

Mayhew said that officials have been "pleading for common sense, for an appreciation for the risks that exist."

She pointed to other states such as New Jersey, New York and Illinois that have implemented 21-day quarantines for health care workers returning from West Africa, over objections from some medical professionals and federal officials.

Hickox has been critical of those policies, too, saying that they could discourage health care workers from going to West Africa. It's possible that some would reconsider helping to fight the epidemic abroad because facing a quarantine upon returning home could hurt their ability to go to work and earning a living.

She hastened to add that she planned to go back to West Africa and continue to help.

On Thursday, the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the creation of "a program of financial incentives" and "employment protections" to encourage health care workers to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. Among the measures: The state will "provide necessary reimbursements -- to health care workers and their employers -- for any quarantines that are needed upon their return to help protect public health and safety in New York."

Commissioner Mayhew said she "did not understand" why Hickox is challenging what she calls a "common-sense approach" of the nurse staying home for three weeks.

Hickox contends the U.S. Constitution and science are on her side.

On Wednesday night, she emerged from the home where she has been staying. She reiterated that she is healthy and free of any Ebola symptoms. She said she is willing to compromise with the state. Hickox is open to travel restrictions, such as barring her from public transportation and limiting her to Fort Kent, a town of 4,000 on the Canadian border.

"So I think there are things that, I know, work," she said. "And I know all aid workers are willing to do those things. But I'm not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it's not science-based."

Having to defend herself and not being able to hug her friends, especially after four tough weeks in West Africa, are "painful (and) emotionally draining," the nurse said. Hickox also said "it's frustrating to hear nasty things," saying her intention in going to Sierra Leone was to make "a difference in people's lives," and her aim now that she's back is not "to put anyone at risk in this community."

Obama champions Ebola caregivers

While he didn't mention Hickox's case specifically, President Barack Obama on Wednesday did speak to -- and in support of -- health care workers like her who have risked their lives and livelihoods by going to West Africa to help those in need. He characterized them as "heroes" who "deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."

He also criticized those championing policies such as quarantines and travel bans, saying that America should firstly be praising, encouraging and supporting health care workers critical to curbing the Ebola epidemic rather than antagonizing them.

"When I hear people talking about American leadership and then are promoting policies that would avoid leadership and have us running in the opposite direction and hiding under the covers, it makes me a little frustrated," Obama said.

The President and numerous infectious disease experts have stressed the importance of stopping Ebola at its source to combat the further spread of the virus to the rest of the world.

The World Health Organization reported Wednesday that there are more than 13,700 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola, almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The United Nations' health authority projected about 5,000 deaths from the virus.

And those are only the ones that authorities have been able to count. In a region where health care access and record-keeping are limited, the WHO says the death toll may be especially undercounted. Some ill people who are seen by physicians and counted as Ebola cases may not stay for treatment and die of the disease, and the record-keepers won't know to record their deaths.

The WHO has said that the mortality rate from the current outbreak, starting with the first death in December, is roughly 60% to 70%.

2 comments

  • Dee

    They should take her nurses license away from her. She knows better and to defy rules should have severe consequences

  • none

    This lady has endangered eveyones heal they should not only take her license to be a nurse away they should give her a fine. Furthermore if she does in 21 days test positive for this deadly disease they should not treat her and just put her to death along with her boyfriend.

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