FORT KENT — The nurse at the center of a quarantine controversy stemming from her work in Ebola-stricken western Africa left her house and hopped on a bicycle to take a ride Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage told ABC News he would drop the state’s demand that Kaci Hickox agree to a quarantine at her home if she submits to a blood test for the virus.
“This could be resolved today,” the governor told ABC News. “She has been exposed and she’s not cooperative, so force her to take a test. It’s so simple.”
Attorneys for the state visited a superior court this morning seeking a judge’s permission to administer the blood test, LePage said.
LePage’s office released a statement shortly after the ABC News report’s publication, which made no mention of a blood test. The statement outlined how health care workers in Maine should meet U.S. CDC guidelines for individuals deemed at “some risk,” which includes anyone who has had direct exposure to those infected with Ebola within a 21-day incubation period.
Those federal guidelines for individuals with no symptoms of illness do not call for isolation. The CDC recommends that public health authorities consider additional restrictions, such as limiting movement, based on each individual’s circumstances.
The statement outlines “what Maine considers an in-home quarantine requires,” but goes on to list approved activities outside the home. The guidelines would permit an individual in the “some risk” category to take walks, runs or ride their bicycle, as Hickox did, but ban them from public places and from coming within three feet of other people outside a group setting, LePage’s statement said.
The governor did not make clear where Hickox and the state disagreed on the restrictions spelled out in Thursday’s statement.
Hickox and her boyfriend Ted Wilbur both exited the house at around 9 a.m. Thursday dressed in riding gear and began pedalling their bikes along a local roadway. Several members of the media who had been watching the house began following them in vehicles.
“It’s a beautiful day for a bike ride,” Hickox said as she rode along the road.
LePage reiterated Thursday that the state would pursue legal action to enforce a 21-day quarantine. Talks with Hickox failed “despite repeated efforts” by state officials, he said. The statement did not refer to her by name.
“I was ready and willing — and remain ready and willing — to reasonably address the needs of health care workers meeting guidelines to assure the public health is protected,” LePage said.
Maine State Police will monitor the residence in Fort Kent where Hickox is staying, to protect her and the community, the governor has said.
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. Twenty-one days is the maximum incubation period for the Ebola virus. State officials have indicated that period for Hickox would end Nov. 10.
A state police trooper stationed outside Hickox’s home did not try to stop the couple as they rode off on their bikes Thursday morning. He followed behind in an unmarked car on the Fort Kent Heritage Trail, an abandoned railroad bed that runs from Fort Kent to St. Francis.
Hickox and Wilbur biked about 3 miles toward St. Francis and turned around just after the Fort Kent golf course.
They passed two cyclists heading in the opposite direction, but otherwise there was no interaction with anybody on the remote trail that runs through the woods paralleling Route 161.
The couple biked back and used an ATV trail off the Heritage Trail to return home.
“You’re going to need to shift up now,” Wilbur said to Hickox as they turned to ascend the path toward home.
“It feels amazing to be on a bicycle today,” Hickox said.
Later in the day at The Moose Shack in Fort Kent, owner Becky Hafford-Lawn said her restaurant had been fielding calls ever since Hickox mentioned during a Wednesday evening press conference that she was looking forward to enjoying a pizza from there.
“We are trying to get her some pizza today,” Hafford-Lawn said. “We have called the police department to find out the best way for us to get it to her.”
Hafford’s daughter, April Hafford, said she is familiar with Hickox and Wilbur, who had come into the restaurant several times last fall before Hickox left for her work in Africa.
“To me, people are overreacting,” April Hafford said. “Right now I would say [it’s about] half and half with people supporting what she is doing [versus] the negative comments.”
As for the morning bicycle ride, Hafford-Lawn said she saw nothing wrong with it.
“It’s not like she was stopping out in the public or going into businesses,” she said.
Her daughter agreed, adding, “Especially up here, if you go for a ride in the woods, who are you going to see?”
As far as former family health worker Bernadette “Bunny” Berube is concerned, Hickox is a hero.
“I think they should put her in a parade,” Berube said. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in.”
Berube said all the information provided by health organizations like the CDC indicate Hickox is not a threat to public health and she wishes people would take the time to get the facts on Ebola and how it is carried and transmitted.
“Uneducation and panic can create chaos,” Berube said. “There is no need for concern [and] if she was out riding her bike, I say, ‘Go for it, girl.’”
Over at the Market Street Co-op, Frenchville resident Sandra Deprey said that what Hickox had done in Africa was heroic.
“But, when [health care workers] come back, they should abide by the stipulations of the CDC,” Deprey said. “Kaci needs to follow the same rules as anyone else coming back.”
A fellow customer in the co-op who declined to be named, agreed, adding, “It’s a shame all of this is taking away from the good she has done.”
Co-op manager Stacie Martin, who lives on the same road as Hickox, said she is not at all worried about Hickox’s presence in her neighborhood.
“I don’t think the public is at risk at all,” Martin said.
Resident Julie Daigle also believes there is no risk to the public, but said it may have been better all around had Hickox abided by the quarantine and avoided the negative publicity.
“It’s really a matter of public perception,” Daigle said. “Someone put it really well when they said if she had come home and just done the 21-day quarantine on day 21 she would have been given a bean supper and recognition ceremony at the Knights of Columbus Hall.”
Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier told the Bangor Daily News he wanted to speak with Hickox Thursday morning about specific safety concerns based on information he received Wednesday. He would not comment on the nature of those safety concerns.
About 8:30 a.m. he tried to call her on the phone. He said he left her a voice mail message.
“I want to make sure she has not received any threats. And if she has, that she contacts us,” Pelletier said.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the American Nurses Association issued statements on Thursday morning calling on the state to avoid imposing unwarranted conditions on Hickox.
“The American Nurses Association opposes the mandatory quarantine of health care professionals who return to the United States from West African nations where Ebola is widespread,” ANA President Pamela Cipriano said in that organization’s press release. “ANA supports registered nurse Kaci Hickox … in her challenge of a 21-day quarantine imposed by state officials in Maine. … After testing negative twice for Ebola, nurse Hickox, who continues to be symptom free, poses no public threat.”
Cipriano states that the nurses association, the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association support the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance “based on the best available scientific evidence. The CDC guidance would not require a mandatory 21-day quarantine of Hickox given risk levels outlined by the CDC in her particular case.”
Cipriano and, in a separate release, Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, both said that imposing more restrictive conditions on Hickox would only raise the level of fear and misinformation that exists.
“Extreme measures like mandatory quarantines and police intervention raise serious concerns about government overreach, not to mention frighten the public,” Beyea said. “While there are situations where protecting public health would justify limits on civil liberties, this isn’t one of them.”
During a Wednesday evening news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said she did not see the quarantine as an infringement of Hickox’s rights but a “common-sense approach” and a “reasonable request” to protect the public health.