Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox wins civil rights victory

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WASHINGTON, November 1, 2014 — Kaci Hickox is the 33-year-old nurse who returned recently to the United States from Sierra Leone, where she treated patients suffering from the Ebola virus. She and the virus are a focus of the last week of campaigning before national, state and local elections on Tuesday of next week.

Hickox has shown no symptoms of Ebola and has, while agreeing to self-monitor and receive frequent check ups, defied the state of Maine’s edict to spend 21 days in quarantine.

Hickox returned from West Africa on Friday, October 24, arriving at Newark Liberty Airport. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, just hours before, had announced an edict, in conjunction with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, mandating a 21 day quarantine. Hickox was directly placed in Christie’s sequester at Newark University Hospital. She described the treatment she received upon arrival at Newark Airport to the Dallas Morning News.

One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn’t. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal.


Hickox had questions of her own, but officials from the CDC and DHS weren’t interested in giving answers, only the barrage of questions aimed at Hickox. For seven hours, Hickox endured what seemed less like public health concern than an interrogation. Then she was taken to the University Hospital in a phlanx of eight Newark PD cars, lights and sirens flaring and blaring as if pursuing a suspect leaving an armed robbery. “I was tired, hungry and confused, but I tried to remain calm.” Kaci then described the situation at the hospital.

After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felt my neck and looked at the temperature again. ‘There’s no way you have a fever,’ he said. ‘Your face is just flushed.’  My blood was taken and tested for Ebola. It came back negative. I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?

Hickox, while in New Jersey, had a battle of wits and words with the contentious Governor. In a statement to the press justifying his quarantine order, Christie noted that Hickox was “obviously ill”, to which Ms. Hickox responded, “First of all, I don’t think he’s a doctor; secondly, he’s never laid eyes on me; and thirdly, I’ve been asymptomatic since I’ve been here,” Hickox told CNN Sunday.

Hickox threatened a legal suit over her confinement and evidently the Governor’s legal staff counseled him to allow her, after 65 hours of confinement in an isolation tent, to leave the state and return to her home in Fort Kent, Maine, where another controversy awaited.

Norman Siegel, a noted civil rights attorney, prepared to file a suit on her behalf. Before that, Christie felt duty bound to issue a characteristically bellicose statement, “I’ve been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I’m happy to take it on.”

When asked whether Hickox’s threat of a lawsuit spurred her release, Christie responded, “It had absolutely nothing to do with (that). If she was continuing to be ill she’d have to stay. She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours and she tested negative for Ebola. So there was no reason to keep her.”

This is interesting in light of the fact that Christie has been campaigning with Maine Governor Paul Le Page and when Hickox arrived in Maine, she was ordered by Le Page to remain in quarantine in her home for 21 days. Why, other than politics, would Hickox need to repeat the process? Hickox refused to abide by an order to stay in her home and yesterday enjoyed a bike ride with her boyfriend.

District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere ordered her to submit to “direct active monitoring,” coordinate travel with public health officials and immediately notify health authorities should symptoms appear. But he denied the state’s request to enforce confinement within her home. Another hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

What seems obvious is that the policies that are driving the handling of returning healthcare workers from West Africa are not being driven by established medical protocol, but instead by the instincts of politicians to exploit the public’s fear of contagious diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, an internationally respected medical NGO, states that “forced quarantine of asymptomatic health workers returning from fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is not grounded on scientific evidence and could undermine efforts to curb the epidemic at its source.”

Attorney Siegel, after the Judge’s ruling, commented, “She won. She is not quarantined. She can go out in the public. … (The judge) got the understanding of what liberty is about and how the government can’t restrict your liberty unless there is compelling justification.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday in an interview with ABC:

Let’s not forget the best way to stop this epidemic and protect America is to stop it in Africa, and you can really help stopping it in Africa if we have our people, our heroes, the health care workers, go there and help us to protect America. If you put everyone in one basket, even people who are clearly no threat, then we have the problem of the disincentive of people that we need.

Of even more concern than discouraging healthcare workers from traveling to Africa where they are desperately needed, is the evident taking of the pulse of the American people by politicians, who believe that we are willing to trade our constitutional rights in exchange for the false protection of authoritarian and fear mongering public officials. Let’s hope that they find we are not so susceptible to such manipulation.

“You know I truly believe that this policy [the quarantine] is not scientifically or constitutionally just,” Hickox told the Today Show on Wednesday. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”

Kaci Hickox is a hero. Not just because she risked her health and well-being to give life sustaining care to the helpless and hopeless in Sierra Leone, but because she struck a blow for reason and the protections of the Constitution against opportunistic, over-reaching politicians. The fight is not over, but the first round goes to Kaci and other brave healthcare workers like her.

 

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  • Rudy Haugeneder

    Constantly mutating Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea which has already killed more than seven millions pigs in America may end up being as dangerous to humans as Ebola is in infected countries. Don’t rule it out. It may be why the CDC and the Obama administration are now finally accelerating its Ebola epidemic treatment systems — just in case and especially if scientists have discovered, perhaps invented during prevention testing, a mutated version PEDv that could easily and quickly spread to the human population, and kill tens of millions of people.

  • multilis

    Concept of quarantine goes back hundreds of years, sailors could without showing symptoms spread deadly plagues… we may have deadly plagues in future, not so hard with gains in dna manipulation, US government discovered it was extremely easy for example to manipulate bird flu to become extremely deadly.

    So if in next 30 years millions of people in US die because precedent set that quarantine was not allowed so plague spread faster, will it still be heroic? Game of russian roulette, most of time you will win, only takes one time for your hero to result in others sick and vast costs to contain the plague

    • RGZ_50

      Doctors Without Borders, an internationally respected medical NGO,
      states that “forced quarantine of asymptomatic health workers
      returning from fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is not grounded on scientific evidence and could undermine efforts to curb the epidemic at its source.”

      Evidently taking of the pulse of the American people, the politicians believe that we are willing to trade our constitutional rights in exchange for the false ‘protection’ of authoritarian and fear mongering public officials.

      Apparently you’ve been bitten by the irrationality bug and have caught the fever of letting government use it’s authority to go beyond medical protocol, merely to pander to voters.

      Remember, the judge District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere looked at the scientific evidence and confirmed what Kaci already agreed to do, submit to “direct active monitoring,” coordinate travel with public health officials and immediately notify
      health authorities should symptoms appear.”

  • Scott Young

    Is this nurse being paid or is she unpaid / unemployed at present? Other returning health care workers have been paid while in quarantine. We have her civil liberties versus her 30% to 50% chance of death for anyone she touches and unwittingly infects during her 21 day incubation. If she is paid during quarantine then she is no different from someone working in a remote outpost, and we can all calm down. Cash your pay checks and relax on the sofa. You did brave work overseas, may or may not have dodged a big bullet, and deserve a rest.

  • The public discussion has been interesting. It purports to pose science against emotion. Let us assume that science should triumph over emotion in such cases.

    Therefore, if we are to remain on the rational side of the equation, we should ask “science” if it can accurately predict two things: (1) the exact time that prodromal symptoms will manifest in any given individual (i.e., can it predict the exact moment when an exposed individual becomes symptomatic); and (2) exactly where that individual will be when symptoms first present themselves (e.g., on public transportation; at a public facility; in the privacy of their home, etc.)?

    If “science” cannot predict one or both of these two critical components that can directly contribute to the spread of a deadly infectious disease, does rational “science” suggest that we should take the risk or err on the side of caution?

    • RGZ_50

      The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney
      and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools). Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes. (Source, the World Health Organization).

      Kaci is asymptomatic and has had these tests run. She, from a practical standpoint, having observed and treated Ebola victims, has forgotten more about the contracting and transmission of Ebola than you or I will ever learn.

      The Judge heard the testimony of medical experts and in this case, heard and read testimony of expert epidemiologists. I guess my answer to you is that when there is a question of civil liberties at risk at the hands of an enormously powerful state and federal apparatus as versus the accumulated expert knowledge of scientists and doctors, I’m inclined to hold on to my liberties.

      Remember also, the judge District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere
      looked at the scientific evidence and confirmed what Kaci already agreed to do, submit to “direct active monitoring,” coordinate travel with public health officials and immediately notify health authorities should symptoms appear.”

      • I absolutely agree with what you have stated. Unfortunately, it does not address either of the two questions Note the operative phrase: “sudden onset.” When and where remains scientifically unpredictable (i.e., somewhere between 2 and 21 days).

        I only pray that Kaci remains asymptomatic and never contracts the disease. However, it would be in the best interests of society if she erred on the side of caution (even if only to assuage the psychological fears of those with whom she might otherwise come in contact during the 2-21 day period). Sometimes it is best to yield personal interests to those of the general population. I’m sure Judge LaVerdiere could cite multiple examples of how the law requires that in other less politicized circumstances.

        • RGZ_50

          Fair enough TJ. And from what I’ve seen, Kaci is cooperating with established medical protocol. I can see a problem if in the midst of her bike ride, she were to ‘suddenly’ begin hurling vomit or leaving a trail of diarrhea in her wake. That would be a concern.

          But based on her history of dedicating her life to saving lives in a part of the world, where to merely witness the degree of suffering that exists is soul scarring, I don’t think she’s acting capriciously.

          The judge didn’t give her absolute leave to disdain check ups from state medical workers, or to travel without authorization, nor did she or her attorney request the ability to do so.

          I’m not in favor of anyone throwing caution or any other bodily fluid to the wind in regards to this disease and the management of it. But on the other hand, I want medical professionals making the decisions and advising judges, not partisan politicians who are prone to exploit what you so aptly term “politicized circumstances”.

  • Sgt. O’Neil

    As Rep. Chris Smith has noted, ObamaCare edicts violate existing Federal law by forcing consumers to pay abortion surcharges along with their insurance premiums.

  • Barney Ross

    Centralized bureaucrat control of access to medical care isn’t compassionate, it’s evil.

  • Wizz Key

    Obamacare isn’t about more choices and lower prices, it’s about fewer choices, higher prices, and centralized control over your medical care.

  • aloha597

    If Obama will lie to you about keeping your insurance and your doctor, he will most certainly lie to you about everything else.

  • Tony Stark

    Why does Obama feel the need to lie so much about Obamacare?

  • Chuck Itt

    It’s important to remember that Obamacare is designed to deny health care to older, mostly conservative people.