FORT KENT, Maine — Kaci Hickox, the nurse released from isolation after returning last week to the U.S. from West Africa, where she treated Ebola patients, spoke in the company of her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, outside their home on Wednesday night to thank the people of Fort Kent for their support.
Hickox told multiple news outlets gathered at the house she will fight any enforced quarantine requiring her to stay in the home beyond Thursday, telling NBC she had spent the day Wednesday in negotiations with representatives from the state and “tried to resolve this amicably.”
However, Hickox also told NBC that state health officials still do not want her leaving her home before the 21-day quarantine period is up on Nov. 10, “even though I am symptom-free.”
Hickox did say she was thankful for the support she has received from Fort Kent residents, some of whom have dropped off gifts, and she was excited to go to the local Moose Shack for pizza.
Hickox spoke for about 10 minutes to about a dozen members of state and national media who hastily gathered at her home when the impromptu press conference was called just before 7 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage had issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the state would pursue legal action to enforce the quarantine and Maine State Police will monitor the residence in Fort Kent where Hickox is staying, to protect her and the community. The statement did not refer to Hickox by name.
Hickox told NBC’s “Today Show” on Wednesday morning that she returned to Fort Kent late Tuesday night and planned to conduct prescribed self-monitoring through Wednesday. Hickox and her attorney, New York civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, vowed to fight any attempt made by the state to extend the at-home isolation period beyond Thursday.
“You know I truly believe that this policy [the quarantine] is not scientifically or constitutionally just,” Hickox told NBC’s Matt Lauer via Skype from her Fort Kent home. “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.”
Maine health officials have said they expect Hickox to agree to be quarantined at her home until 21 days have passed since her last potential exposure to the virus. Twenty-one days is the maximum incubation period for the Ebola virus.
“We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community,” LePage said in a statement. “We are exploring all of our options for protecting the health and well-being of the health care worker, anyone who comes in contact with her, the Fort Kent community and all of Maine. While we certainly respect the rights of one individual, we must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers, as well as anyone who visits our great state.”
During a Wednesday evening news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said she did not see the quarantine as an infringement of Hickox’s rights but a “common-sense approach” and a “reasonable request” to protect the public health.
She also said that the Maine attorney general’s office was working on the necessary paperwork to seek that court order, and that it could be submitted to a judge as soon as Wednesday night.
Mayhew said during a news conference that should Hickox leave her home before Nov. 10 and the state still does not have a court order to enforce the quarantine, the state police will monitor her movements and keep track of those with whom she makes contact.
Mayhew said that it is as much for Hickox’s protection as it is for concerns about public safety.
Federal health officials and infectious disease experts have criticized state measures that exceed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, saying stricter protocols could backfire and deter American health care professionals from volunteering to fight the Ebola epidemic at its source in West Africa.
LePage and the Maine CDC have tracked Hickox’s care and movement since Monday, according to the statement. The state will not release her location for privacy and security reasons.
“We commend all health care workers for their humanitarian work in West Africa and other regions in the world, and we are proud that Americans are always ready to help others,” LePage said. “However, the health care worker who is in Fort Kent has been unwilling to follow the protocols set forth by the Maine CDC and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients.”
A trooper sat Wednesday morning in an unmarked car across the street from Hickox’s rural Fort Kent home. He declined to give his name but said he was working with the Maine CDC “to monitor her movement and ensure her safety.”
A second trooper was parked a mile down the road from the house.
About 3 p.m. Wednesday, a woman was escorted to the house by one of the troopers who identified her only as a CDC worker. She went inside and left about five minutes later without responding to questions. She was not wearing any special garb when she entered the home.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette had stated Tuesday that anyone under direct active monitoring by the state would have an “epidemiologist go to the home to speak to the individual, assess the individual’s status and observe the patient taking the temperature, looking at the temperature and then recording that.”
On Wednesday morning, Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier confirmed he had spoken to LePage that morning and that the governor had asked for local police assistance in monitoring Hickox’s movements.
“We made it clear we are not restricting her movements,” Pelletier said. “We are waiting to see what if any court order comes down, and then we will decide.”
Pelletier said he was not concerned about any health issues should she leave her house, but he is concerned about her personal safety and would like to speak directly with Hickox.
“I will make her aware of my concerns that there are some local people who are upset,” Pelletier said. “But I believe she is an educated person and as such will not put anyone at risk.”
Hickox’s attorneys told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday evening that she would not abide by the state’s in-home quarantine requirements.
“The ball is now in the court of Maine,” Siegel said from the NBC studio Wednesday. “If there is any attempt to physically apprehend her, we will fight for her freedom.”
Hickox was kept in an isolation tent in Newark for several days after her landing in New York City and before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared she could return to Maine.
“But I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines of home quarantine forced upon me [by Maine] even though I am in good health, feeling strong and am symptom free,” she told NBC on Wednesday. “I am glad to be out of the tent in Newark but have found myself in yet another prison.”
Canadian Border Services Agency officials also have been monitoring the situation with Hickox as it unfolds in Fort Kent, but they would not comment on any specific actions they are taking with regard to the border crossing between Fort Kent and Clair, New Brunswick.
“Every person arriving in Canada is required to disclose under the Quarantine Act if he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect that he or she may have, or has been exposed to, a communicable disease,” Jennifer Morrison, Canadian Border Services Agency spokesperson said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “As an added precaution, the government of Canada has further strengthened border measures to help prevent the unlikely arrival of Ebola virus disease in the country.”
According to Morrison, border services officers are asking additional questions of all people arriving in Canada. These questions relate to travel history over the past month and general health.
The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland urged Mainers Wednesday to acknowledge Hickox’s bravery for putting herself at risk to treat those afflicted with Ebola in Sierra Leone.
“The people of Maine have always been known for their sense of hospitality and welcome, as well as for their care and concern for their neighbor,” Bishop Robert Deeley said in a statement. “We need to balance our desire to protect ourselves and those we love with the obligation to treat Ms. Hickox with the same compassion and support that she displayed in West Africa, rather than with fear and rejection. As we cooperate with government and medical officials, especially by remaining calm and responding with reason, please join me and keep the thousands affected by this disease in our prayers.”