Nurse Kaci Hickox left a New Jersey hospital on Monday and headed toward home in northern Maine, where her partner is a University of Maine at Fort Kent nursing student who lives off campus.
State health officials announced that she’d be quarantined at home for 21 days after the last possible exposure to the disease under Maine’s health protocols.
“Upon the healthcare workers’ return home, we will follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement. “Additionally, we will work with the healthcare worker to establish an in-home quarantine protocol to ensure there is no direct contact with other Mainers until the period for potential infection has passed.”
Hickox’s lawyer, Steven Hyman, said he expected her to remain in seclusion for the “next day or so” while he works with state health officials. He said he believes the state should follow federal CDC guidelines that require only monitoring, not quarantine, for health care workers who show no symptoms after treating Ebola patients.
“She’s a very good person who did very good work and deserves to be honored, not detained, for it,” he said.
Hickox, who volunteered in Africa with Doctors Without Borders, spent the weekend in a tent in New Jersey despite having no symptoms other than a slightly elevated temperature she blamed on “inhumane” treatment at Newark International Airport. She said she never had symptoms and tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation. She left New Jersey in a private vehicle on Monday for the drive to Fort Kent, which borders Canada.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were sharply criticized for ordering mandatory quarantines. LePage’s office also called for a quarantine but later suggested the quarantine was not mandatory.
“We fully expect individuals to voluntarily comply with an in-home quarantine,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Monday. “If an individual is not compliant, the state is prepared to take appropriate action.”
Bennett did not immediately say what “appropriate action” might be.
In Fort Kent, Northern Maine Medical Center is ready to care for an Ebola-infected patient, if necessary, a spokeswoman said.
Hickox and her partner, Ted Wilbur, had moved recently to Fort Kent, where Wilbur is a senior nursing student, family members said. WAGM-TV said Wilbur was given the choice of staying on campus in student housing over the next few weeks or temporarily suspending his classes to stay with Hickox in his off-campus home during the quarantine period.
A University of Maine system spokesman said he couldn’t confirm details of discussions with Wilbur.
Wilbur’s uncle Tom Wilbur said that Hickox should be trusted to make good decisions and that medical decisions should be grounded in science and not “hysteria.”
“She’s very much a professional,” he said. “And she’s very bright. And if she were running a fever, she would be the first to take action.”