NEWARK, NJ—A Doctors Without Borders volunteer who was held against her will for nearly three days in a tent inside University Hospital has been released from isolation and transported to her home state.
Upon her return from Sierra Leone, Kaci Hickox became the first person subjected to the controversial mandatory quarantine policy instituted by Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo.
She was hoping to catch a connecting flight home to Maine, but the Christie-Cuomo policy dictated a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all those who have had contact with an Ebola victim even if the person in question is entirely asymptomatic.
For residents of New Jersey, isolation can be done at home, but out-of-state residents are to be quarantined in a hospital, under the new policy.
Hickox was held at Newark Airport after telling the immigration official the origin of her flight. After contradictory thermometer readings and six hours in the airport, Hickox was told she would be escorted to a hospital.
She says she was only told which hospital she would be taken to after asking for that information.
At the hospital, her temperature was determined to be normal, and twice tested negative for Ebola.
Still, Governor Christie claimed she was “obviously ill,” in public statements Hickox disputed.
She was released from isolation on Monday, October 27, after mounting criticism of the mandatory quarantine policy.
The quarantine policy has come under scrutiny from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which has said, “Ebola poses no substantial risk to the U.S. general population.”
“Ebola is not spread through casual contact; therefore, the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. is very low,” reads the CDC website. “We know how to stop Ebola’s further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person, and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also concerned with the legality of such a policy. According to Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey chapter, “Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers.”
Under the pressure, Gov. Cuomo backed down, saying Sunday that he would ease the restrictive policy, which had been soundly criticized by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others.
After Cuomo’s change of heart, Gov. Christie maintained in TV appearance that the mandatory quarantine policy, “will become the national policy because it’s smart, tough, common sense policy.”
Christie said Hickox would be released to Maine “because she hasn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours,” in what appeared to be a change from his original stance.
On the defensive, Christie claimed that Hickox’s release did not represent a change in his position.
“I didn’t reverse any decision. Why are you saying I reversed a decision?” Christie asked a reporter at an out-of-state campaign event for Florida Governor Rick Scott.
“Because now she gets to go home,” responded the reporter.
According to the Associated Press’ Marilynn Marchione and Mike Stobbe, the Governors had previouly said those who are forcibly quarantined would either be confined either to their homes or, if they live in other states, to some other place, most likely a medical facility.
Still, Christie denied anything changed, despite the release of Hickox, presumably to her home in Maine.
“It’s the policy that has been instituted since that time that dealt with the woman from Maine and will deal with anybody else who is a healthcare worker who has direct contact with someone who has the Ebola virus,” said Christie on Monday. “There has been no change. No difference. That’s the policy and that’s the way it continues to be.”
Christie switched between criticizing the CDC, saying that that they would “eventually come around” to his position, and shifting the blame to them in the decision-making process.
“My job is not to represent her, it’s to represent the people of New Jersey. So she was ill. She was obviously ill enough that the CDC and medical officials hospitalized her and gave her an Ebola test,” said Christie.
“They don’t do that just for fun. That’s a very specific, difficult, expensive test to do.”