Home News In About-Face, Judge Lifts Ebola Quarantine on U.S. Nurse

In About-Face, Judge Lifts Ebola Quarantine on U.S. Nurse


FORT KENT, Me. — Less than a day after confining a nurse who treated Ebola victims to her house, a judge in Maine has lifted the quarantine, rejecting arguments by the State of Maine that the measure was necessary to protect the public.

Within an hour of the decision, state troopers who had been parked outside the nurse’s house for days had left.

The order, signed on Friday by Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere, the chief judge for the Maine District Courts who serves in Kennebec and Somerset counties, said the nurse, Kaci Hickox, “currently does not show symptoms of Ebola and is therefore not infectious.”

The order requires Ms. Hickox to submit to daily monitoring for symptoms, to coordinate her travel with state health officials, and to notify them immediately if symptoms appear. Ms. Hickox has agreed to follow the requirements.

Ms. Hickox’s lawyers said the decision is likely to end a standoff between the nurse, who has resisted being quarantined on the grounds that she is not symptomatic for Ebola, and the state authorities, who say that a quarantine is needed to ensure the public’s safety.

The lawyers said there may be a further hearing on the issue on Tuesday, but said they do not expect it to change how things stand.

Maine had pushed for Ms. Hickox to abide by what it considers an “in home” quarantine, based on guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under those guidelines, anyone who has had direct exposure to Ebola should, during the 21-day incubation period of the virus, be monitored daily by health officials, coordinate travel with the authorities, stay away from public places and gatherings, not go to work, and maintain a three-foot distance from others.

On Thursday, Judge LaVerdiere issued a one-day order imposing a quarantine on Ms. Hickox while he weighed the arguments. But in his order Friday morning, the judge lifted that quarantine and commended Ms. Hickox, saying, “We would not be here today unless Respondent generously, kindly and with compassion lent her skills to aid, comfort and care for individuals stricken with a terrible disease. We need to remember as we go through this matter that we owe her and all professionals who give of themselves in this way a debt of gratitude.”

“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,” the judge said. “The Court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational. However, whether that fear is rational or not, it is present and it is real. She should guide herself accordingly.”

Ms. Hickox’s lawyers said the decision was a victory for their client and for health workers everywhere.

“This decision isn’t binding on other states but it will certainly influence them,” said Steven Hyman one of her lawyers. “The judge made a reasonable decision about setting smart limitations.”

Mr. Hyman spoke to Ms. Hickox by phone after the decision and said she was “very grateful.”

“She said she hopes this will make it so other aid workers don’t have to go through this,” he said.

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