FORT KENT, Maine (CBSNewYork/AP) — A nurse who vowed to defy Maine’s voluntary quarantine for health care workers who treated Ebola patients followed through on her promise Thursday, leaving her home for a bike ride.
Kaci Hickox and her boyfriend stepped out of their home Thursday morning and rode away on bicycles, followed by a trail of reporters and state police who were monitoring her movements and public interactions. They returned about an hour later.
State officials planned to go to court Thursday to have her confined against her will in what is shaping up as the nation’s biggest test case yet in the struggle to balance public health and fear of Ebola against personal freedom.
Hickox contends there’s no need for quarantine because she’s showing no symptoms. She’s also tested negative for the deadly disease.
“I really hope that we can work things out amicably and continue to negotiate,” she said Thursday morning while riding on a dirt trail.
It was the second time Hickox broke quarantine. She left her home Wednesday evening briefly to speak to reporters, even shaking a hand that was offered to her.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about how Ebola is transmitted and I can understand why people are frightened. But their fear is not based on medical facts,” Norman Siegel, one of her attorneys, said Wednesday as a showdown appeared imminent.
Hickox, who volunteered in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders, was the first person forced into New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine for people arriving at the Newark airport from the three West African countries hit hardest by the disease.
She spent the weekend in a tent at University Hospital in Newark before traveling to the home she shares with her boyfriend in Fort Kent, Maine.
“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” she told reporters Wednesday evening.
Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, has killed thousands of people in Africa, but only four people have been diagnosed with it in the United States, including Dr. Craig Spencer in New York City.
People can’t be infected just by being near someone who’s sick, and people aren’t contagious unless they’re sick, health officials say.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend daily monitoring for health care workers like Hickox who have come into contact with Ebola patients. But some states like Maine are going above and beyond those guidelines.
“There are other cases where people did not test positive, did not believe they were symptomatic and quickly developed symptoms,” said Maine Health Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
The defense department is going even further. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered military men and women helping fight Ebola to undergo 21-day quarantines that start upon their return instead of their last exposure to an Ebola patient.
President Barack Obama warned that overly restrictive measures imposed upon returning health care workers could discourage them from volunteering in Africa.
“We need to call them what they are which is American heroes,” he said. “They deserve our gratitude.”
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who canceled campaign events to keep tabs on the situation, maintained that the state must be “vigilant” to protect others.
State law allows a judge to grant temporary custody of someone if health officials demonstrate “a clear and immediate public health threat.”
The state’s court filing was expected late Wednesday or early Thursday, officials said. If a judge grants the state request, then Hickox will appeal the decision on constitutional grounds, necessitating a hearing, Siegel said.
Siegel said the nurse hopes her fight against the quarantine will help bring an end to misinformation about how the Ebola virus is transmitted.
“She wants to have her voice in the debate about how America handles the Ebola crisis. She has an important voice and perspective,” he said.
Hickox says she’s even willing to restrict her travels and not take public transportation.
The issue of quarantines could heat up when about 20 American aid workers are expected to return to the U.S from West Africa in the next month.
A new CBS News poll of more than 1,200 people nationwide found 80 percent say Americans returning from West Africa should be quarantined upon arrival.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
[display-posts category=”news” wrapper=”ul” posts_per_page=”4″]
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)