A judge in Maine ruled Friday that Kaci Hickox, the nurse who treated Ebola patients and defied a state-imposed quarantine, can come and go as she pleases, as long as she is monitored for symptoms and lets health officials know where she’s going.
The same judge had issued a temporary order on Thursday night ordering Hickox to stay at least three feet away from other people and to stay away from crowds and public transportation.
But the judge, Charles C. LaVerdiere of state court, lifted those parts of the order on Friday. He found that authorities in Maine had not proved that restricting Hickox’s movement was necessary to protect the public from infection. He said that his order was pending a further hearing.
Hickox said the decision showed America was “on the right track” because “now we’re discussing, as a nation, about this disease.”
"I am humbled today by the judge's decision, and even more humbled by the support that we have received from the town of Fort Kent, the state of Maine, across the U.S. and even across the globe," Hickox said.
She announced no plans beyond staying in to watch a Halloween movie with her boyfriend on Friday night.
“Ebola is a scary disease. I have seen it face-to-face, and I know that we are nowhere near winning this battle,” she said. She said it would only be won “as we gain a better understanding about Ebola and public health, as we overcome the fear, and most importantly as we end the outbreak that is still going on in West Africa today.”
Hickox's lawyer, Norman Siegel said he was “pleased” with LaVerdiere’s decision, and hopes other leaders would learn from it. Siegel said the decision indicated that protocols in place for Ebola health care workers in other states “were not based on medical fact and science, but were based on myth and fear.”
“Kudos to judge Charles LaVerdiere,”Siegel added.
But Gov. Paul LePage said the judge had put Hickox’s rights ahead of public safety.
“We don’t know what we don’t know about Ebola,” he told reporters. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “has been totally wrong.”
He also expressed frustration with how Hickox has handled herself: “I don’t trust her, and I don’t trust that we know enough about this disease to be so callous.”
Hickox said Friday night that she found LePage’s comments “interesting.” She said she would adhere to the system of monitoring her health and wouldn’t do anything to “create more fear” in the community. “With direct active monitoring we can catch cases and still keep the public safe. I don’t think it needs to come down to trust,” she said.
The nurse returned from Africa a week ago. She has maintained that authorities in Maine violated her rights by demanding that she stay at home for 21 days. She took a defiant bike ride on Thursday, and LePage said she was testing his patience.
The judge said Hickox must submit to what health officials call direct active monitoring — having her temperature taken and being checked for symptoms at least once a day. But he stressed that she has no symptoms and is therefore not infectious.
The nurse spent last weekend in an isolation tent near the airport in Newark, New Jersey. She objected to the conditions and had a public spat with Gov. Chris Christie, who dared her to sue him.
The judge in Maine gave her a gentle rebuke in his ruling.
“The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational,” he wrote. “However, whether that fear is rational or not, it is present and it is real.
“Respondent’s actions at this point, as a health care professional, need to demonstrate her full understanding of human nature and the real fear that exist. She should guide herself accordingly.”
Hickox said she understood the sentiment.
“I’m a nurse and a public health worker,” she said. “I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.”