FORT KENT — Kaci Hickox, the nurse released from isolation after returning last week to the U.S. from West Africa, where she treated Ebola patients, is back in Fort Kent and saying she will fight 21-day home quarantine.
In response, Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the state would pursue legal action and Maine State Police will monitor the residence in Fort Kent where Hickox is staying, to protect her and the community. The statement did not refer to Hickox by name.
Hickox told NBC’s Today Show on Wednesday morning that she returned to Fort Kent late Tuesday night and plans to conduct prescribed self monitoring today. Hickox and her attorney, New York civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, vowed to fight any attempt made by the state to extend the at-home isolation period beyond Thursday.
“You know I truly believe that this policy [the quarantine] is not scientifically or constitutionally just,” Hickox told NBC’s Matt Lauer via Skype from her Fort Kent home. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”
Maine health officials have said they expect Hickox to agree to be quarantined at her home until 21 days have passed since her last potential exposure to the virus. One health official said Tuesday that the 21 days — the maximum incubation period for the Ebola virus — would end on Nov. 10 for Hickox.
LePage said his office is working with state health officials to “seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine.” Early Tuesday evening, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew noted at a hastily called news conference that the state has the authority to seek a court order to compel quarantine for individuals deemed a public health risk.
“We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community,” LePage said in the statement. “We are exploring all of our options for protecting the health and well-being of the healthcare worker, anyone who comes in contact with her, the Fort Kent community and all of Maine. While we certainly respect the rights of one individual, we must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers, as well as anyone who visits our great state.”
LePage and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention have tracked Hickox’ care and movement since Monday, according to the statement. The state will not release her location for privacy and security reasons.
“We commend all healthcare workers for their humanitarian work in West Africa and other regions in the world, and we are proud that Americans are always ready to help others,” LePage said. “However, the health care worker who is in Fort Kent 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.”
A trooper sat Wednesday morning in an unmarked car across the street from Hickox’s rural Fort Kent home. He declined to give his name but said he was working with the Maine CDC “to monitor her movement and ensure her safety.”
When asked what he would do if she left the house, the trooper referred the question to state police spokesperson Stephen McCausland, who would not “speak to hypotheticals. The governor’s statement speaks for itself.”
Hickox’s attorneys told the Bangor Daily News Tuesday evening that she would not abide by the state’s in-home quarantine requirements.
“The ball is now in the court of Maine,” Siegel said from the NBC studio Wednesday. “If there is any attempt to physically apprehend her, we will fight for her freedom.”
Hickox was kept in an isolation tent in Newark for several days following her landing in New York City and before New Jersey Chris Christie declared she could return to Maine.
“But I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines of home quarantine forced upon me [by Maine] even though I am in good health, feeling strong and am symptom free,” she said. “I am glad to be out of the tent in Newark, but have found myself in yet another prison.”
Gov. LePage’s statement did not address how police would respond if Hickox left her residence.
On Wednesday morning Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier said he learned of Hickox’s return to town just that morning and said, while he is not concerned about any health issues should she leave her house, he is concerned about her personal safety.
“I will make her aware of my concerns that there are some local people who are upset,” Pelletier said. “But I believe she is an educated person and as such will not put anyone at risk.”
The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland urged Mainers Wednesday to acknowledge Hickox’s bravery for putting herself at risk to treat those afflicted with Ebola in Sierra Leone.
“The people of Maine have always been known for their sense of hospitality and welcome, as well as for their care and concern for their neighbor,” Bishop Robert Deeley said in a statement. “We need to balance our desire to protect ourselves and those we love with the obligation to treat Ms. Hickox with the same compassion and support that she displayed in West Africa, rather than with fear and rejection. As we cooperate with government and medical officials, especially by remaining calm and responding with reason, please join me and keep the thousands affected by this disease in our prayers.”