NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A nurse who was forcibly quarantined at a hospital isolation unit in New Jersey after testing negative for Ebola has been released.
Nurse Kaci Hickox was discharged from University Hospital in Newark around 1:20 p.m. Monday, after being quarantined for four days, a hospital representative said.
Hickox, 33, was whisked away in one of two black sport-utility vehicles, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported. There was no police escort.
The New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement that Hickox was being released after being “symptom free for the last 24 hours.”
EXTRA: More On Ebola From The CDC
“As a result, and after being evaluated in coordination with the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the treating clinicians at University Hospital, the patient is being discharged,” the Health Department said.
Health officials said she had been monitored in isolation at University Hospital since testing negative for Ebola early Saturday morning.
EXTRA: More On Ebola From The CDC
Hickox was ordered into quarantine Friday, after she flew into Newark Liberty International Airport. She had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.
Since Hickox “had direct exposure to individuals suffering from the Ebola virus in one of the three West African nations,” health officials said she was “subject to a mandatory New Jersey quarantine order.”
Hickox was to be transported to Maine via ground transportation, and not mass transit or a commercial airline, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
“Health officials in Maine have been notified of her arrangements and will make a determination under their own laws on her treatment when she arrives,” the statement said.
Maine’s protocols require Hickox to be quarantined in her home for 21 days after the last possible exposure to the disease.
Hickox, the first person forced into a mandatory quarantine program in New Jersey, complained about her treatment and was talking about suing to protect the rights of other health care workers.
“I think this is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated,” Hickox said from a tent at University Hospital on Monday.
Hickox called her hospital conditions deplorable – with only basic facilities and accommodations.
“There’s a hospital bed. They’re bringing me food,” Hickox said in a telephone interview with CNN on Sunday. “I have a porta-potty-type restroom. No shower facilities.”
She slammed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the decision.
“If he knew anything about Ebola, he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious,” she said.
Hickox’s attorney, Norman Siegel, was forced to speak with her through a plastic window outside of the tent. They plan to file a federal lawsuit, charging that the Ebola policies put in place by New York and New Jersey are violating people’s civil liberties.
“It’s almost like treating people who are doing the right thing, who go to West Africa and come back here, and are treated like criminals,” Siegel said.
Siegel said he will push on with support from the Obama Administration to try to get the New York-New Jersey quarantine policy enacted last week reversed, at the very least, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.
Hickox also said she had no symptoms at all and tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation.
She did come down with a fever hours after being quarantined. She said the elevated temperature was only detected on a forehead scanner because she was flustered after being held for hours with little information, food and water.
New Jersey Health Department officials said Hickox had access to a computer, her cellphone, magazines and newspapers and had been allowed to have takeout food.
The American Civil Liberties Union also warned against overly coercive measures.
“Medical workers have put their lives at risk treating Ebola patients. They should be rewarded with compassion and not treated like criminals,” the ACLU of New Jersey said in a statement. “Mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no Ebola symptoms and when not medically necessary is overbroad and raises serious constitutional concerns.”
But as CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, Christie maintained that the right decision was made, regardless of the fact that Hickox turned out not to have Ebola.
“No matter what you do, there’s going to be critics, and you don’t worry about that,” Christie said. “You worry about doing what’s right for the people you represent.”
Speaking at a campaign event for Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Wellington, Florida, on Monday morning, Christie also said “when she has time to reflect, she’ll understand” the quarantine and that he is happy to send her home.
“She was obviously ill enough that the CDC and medical officials hospitalized her and gave her Ebola tests,” Christie said. “They don’t do that just for fun.”
Christie and Cuomo jointly announced the quarantine policy on Friday. They are stricter than those advised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under the guidelines, if a person arriving from West Africa has symptoms of the virus, he or she will be transported in protective gear to a designated hospital.
If a person has direct contact with Ebola but has no symptoms, that person will be under a 21 day home quarantine.
Over the weekend, the Obama administration condemned the mandatory quarantine policy.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also defended the use of the new Ebola quarantine rules.
“You could say I am being overly cautious, but I would rather be, in this situation, a little over-cautious,” Cuomo said. “And I think all New Yorkers feel the same way. You don’t want to make a mistake with this.”
The two governors late Sunday night emphasized separately that their policies permit home confinement for medical workers who have had contact with Ebola patients if the workers show no symptoms. They will receive twice-daily monitoring from health officials.
Christie’s office said Sunday that the state’s protocol was clear that New Jersey residents with no symptoms but who had come into contact with someone with Ebola would be subject to a mandatory 21-day quarantine at their home. Nonresidents who landed in the state would be taken home if feasible, or otherwise quarantined in New Jersey.
Cuomo said quarantine tents at medical facilities like the one Hickox was put in would be used only in certain cases, such as if the health care workers don’t have a home to go to in New York or New Jersey.
For workers under home confinement, family members will be allowed to stay, and friends may visit with the approval of health officials. Workers displaying any symptoms will go straight to the hospital.
Under the protocols Cuomo detailed, the state also will pay for any lost compensation if the quarantined workers are not paid by a volunteer organization.
Cuomo said Monday on Long Island that New York’s policy may be overly cautious, but it’s not unreasonable.
“They will have just been in Africa for a period of time,” Cuomo told reporters, including WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs. “Stay home with your family and your friends, and we’ll pay you.
Cuomo had criticized Dr. Craig Spencer, who tested positive for Ebola on Thursday, for not obeying a 21-day voluntary quarantine. But on Sunday, he called the health care workers “heroes” and said his administration would encourage more medical workers to volunteer to fight Ebola.
For much of the weekend, the governors had also been under fire from members of the medical community.
“The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers, so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The establishment charged that science does not agree that a quarantine is necessary for those who are asymptomatic, and that it will have a chilling effect on recruiting health care workers to go to West Africa and fight the epidemic.
“This approach, however, is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal,” said an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. “The governors’ action is like driving a carpet tack with a sledgehammer: it gets the job done but overall is more destructive than beneficial.”
“The quarantine is not evidence-based,” said Dr. Dana March of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “There is absolutely reason to quarantine people who are asymptomatic.”
AIDS activist Charles King, who understands health epidemics, also said New York and New Jersey shouldn’t freelance when it comes to quarantines. The varying policies don’t help.
“We start creating confusion all over the country,” he told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
“Even if we questioned the CDC’s policies as they’re articulated, the CDC is constantly updating its policies as it learns more,” King added.
As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, CDC Director Thomas Frieden also expressed worry the measures taken by Christie and Cuomo go too far. He announced a new set of safety guidelines on Monday which increase the level of protection by outlining four different levels of exposure – high risk, some risk, low risk but not zero, and no identified risk.
He also outlined different public health actions that can be taken for each of those levels of exposure, ranking from voluntary home quarantine to self-monitoring.
But Cuomo said feedback from medical groups was sought before making the new quarantine rules.
“I have spoken to everyone. I have spoken to governors, health commissioners all across the state; medical groups,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control does not agree with the governors. But Christie said he is confident that the CDC will come to adopt the policy, and Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota already have.
Connecticut also joined New Jersey and New York in establishing mandatory quarantine rules for possible Ebola patients on Monday.
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