Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox leaves hospital, returns to Maine for quarantine

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NEWARK, N.J (PIX11) -- It became something of a showdown between Kaci Hickox, a quarantined nurse who had treated Ebola patients in West Africa, and Gov. Chris Christie, who had implemented the quarantine order when she had landed at Newark Liberty Airport from Sierra Leone on Friday.  While there's no declared winner in the dispute between them, the nurse is now on her way home, after threatening to sue Christie and the state of New Jersey, and Christie's quarantine plan has been altered.

The change came at around 9:30 Monday morning, when the New Jersey Department of Health announced that Hickox, the nurse from northern Maine who was held in a medical tent at University Hospital in Newark since arriving back in the U.S., would be released, pending CDC approval.

The mention of approval was superfluous, since the CDC had said all along that the practice of quarantining all health care personnel who'd worked on Ebola cases, no matter their health status, was detrimental to the cause of stopping the deadly epidemic.  The quarantine plan was implemented last Friday by Govs. Christie and Andrew Cuomo of New York.

By Friday, Cuomo had altered his state's quarantine policy, after the White House had encouraged a change.  Cuomo declared that non-symptomatic health care workers who'd helped Ebola patients would be required to quarantine at home for 21 days, rather than in hospitals.

Christie, on the other hand, did not change at first, much to the annoyance of Nurse Hickox.

"I heard from my mother," Hickox said in a telephone interview with CNN from her quarantine tent on Sunday, "[she said] 'Governor Christie just said [in another interview], you were 'obviously ill.''"

"First of all," Hickox continued, "I don't think he's a doctor. Secondly, he's never laid eyes on me.  Thirdly, I have been asymptomatic since I've been here [in the U.S.] I feel, physically, completely strong."

"I think we have to be very careful," she went on, "about letting politicians make medical and public health decisions ... It's really inhumane."

Gov. Christie was in Florida on Monday, stumping for Republican governor Rick Scott, who's facing a tough re-election battle.  But the battle between Christie and Hickox forced Christie to address her situation, even though he was on the road.

“I know she didn’t want to be there, no one ever wants to be in the hospital, I suspect," said New Jersey's governor.  "And so I understand that. But the fact is I have a much greater, bigger responsibility to the people and the public and so I think when she has time to reflect she will understand that as well.”

She may be reflecting during her trip back home to the U.S. - Canadian border.  Hickox's home, in Ft. Kent, Maine, is a twelve hour drive from Newark, without stops for gas and food, and is on the St. John River, which separates the two countries.

When she left University Hospital in Newark at 1:20 p.m., very few of the dozens of gathered journalists saw her unmarked black SUV depart.  The vehicle was apparently owned by an ambulance company.

Minutes after her departure, the White House made official statements about her situation, and about the policies it hopes will prevent another case like hers.

"These kinds of policies should be driven by science and the best scientific advice that is available," said Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, in a mid-afternoon news conference.  "We have experts at the Centers for Disease Control and at HHS that have been dealing with ebola outbreaks for decades now.  And there is a body of medical science and research that should guide the implementation of these policies.  And we're going to work closely with states and localities to do exactly that."

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