FORT KENT — A Maine judge gave nurse Kaci Hickox the OK to go wherever she pleases, handing state officials a defeat Friday in their bid to restrict her movements as a precaution against Ebola.
In a case that has come to define the clash between personal freedom and fear of disease, Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere ruled that Hickox must continue daily monitoring but said there’s no need to isolate her or restrict her movements because she’s not showing symptoms of Ebola.
Gov. Paul LePage disagreed with the judge’s decision but said the state will follow the law.
“As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers. The judge has eased restrictions with this ruling and I believe it is unfortunate. However, the state will abide by law,” LePage said.
After the ruling, a state police cruiser that had been monitoring her Hickox’s movements left, and she and her boyfriend stepped outside to thank the judge.
Hickox called it “a good day” and said her “thoughts, prayers and gratitude” remain with those who are still battling Ebola in West Africa.
The state went to court Thursday to impose restrictions on Hickox until the 21-day incubation period for Ebola ends on Nov. 10.
Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, contended that confinement at her home in northern Maine violated her rights. She twice violated the state’s voluntary quarantine by going outside her home — once to go on a bike ride and once to talk to the media and shake a reporter’s hand.
In his ruling, the judge thanked Hickox for her service in Africa and acknowledged the gravity of restricting someone’s constitutional rights without solid science to back it up.
“The court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola,” he wrote. “The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.”
A spokesman for LePage declined to say if the state would request a hearing on the judge’s ruling. Steve Hyman, one of her lawyers, said the hearing would be unnecessary.
“She has violated every promise she has made so far, so I can’t trust her,” LePage later told reporters after a campaign event. “I don’t trust her. And I don’t trust that we know enough about this disease to be so callous.”
Hickox, 33, stepped into the media glare when she returned from Sierra Leone to become subject to a mandatory quarantine in New Jersey. After being released from a hospital there, she returned to this small town, where she was placed under what Maine authorities called a voluntary quarantine.
She said she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of daily monitoring for fever and other signs of the disease.
“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” she said earlier.
In a court filing, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention backed away from the state’s original request for an in-home quarantine and called for restrictions that fall in line with federal guidelines.
Hickox remains at risk of being infected with Ebola until the end of a 21-day incubation period, Dr. Sheila Pinette said.
“It is my opinion that the respondent should be subjected to an appropriate public health order for mandatory direct active monitoring and restrictions on movement as soon as possible and until the end of the incubation period … to protect the public health and safety,” she wrote.
Hickox said Friday that she had no immediate plans, other than to watch a scary movie at home on Halloween night. Asked if she’d be handing out candy, she said she hadn’t been able to go shopping.
Associated Press writers David Sharp and Patrick Whittle in Portland contributed to this story.
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