Kaci Hickox treated Ebola patients in West Africa. She’s a hero.
Since she got home to America, she’s been treated like a criminal.
Hickox is a nurse who specializes in infectious disease, and the first American to be isolated under New Jersey’s new 21-day quarantine on Ebola aid workers. She worked for Doctors Without Borders — the aid group fighting West Africa’s Ebola epidemic — before flying home on Friday and being rushed into a surprise isolation that she’s described as scary, disorganized, and even cruel.
Let’s be clear: Hickox’s not sick with Ebola right now, and even if she was, she wouldn’t be at a stage of the disease where she’d be able to accidentally infect anyone else. To be on the safe side, she’d planned to spend the next few weeks in isolation at her home in Maine.
Stuck in a tent at a Newark hospital for three weeks instead, Hickox doesn’t have a flushable toilet. She can’t see her friends or family. She initially wasn’t even allowed to talk to a lawyer, although she’s hired one to try and get her out of quarantine.
The planned argument: That quarantining Ebola aid workers who aren’t actually sick is a civil-rights violation.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who imposed the quarantine — and who Hickox plans to sue — isn’t backing down. In a press conference on Saturday, Christie said he was “sorry” if Hickox was inconvenienced, “but inconvenience that could occur from having folks that are symptomatic and ill out amongst the public is a much, much greater concern of mine.”
“When I left this morning she still had a fever and she was being tested for other illnesses after the Ebola test came back negative,” Christie added, “I hope she recovers quickly.”
Hickox, to put it mildly, thinks Christie doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“I am not, as he said ‘obviously ill.’” Hickox told CNN. Two separate tests have cleared her of Ebola.
“I am completely healthy and with no symptoms,” she added. “And if he knew anything about Ebola he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious.”
Several leading public health experts have suggested that Christie’s decision to confine Hickox is an attempt to score political points, given the public’s fear of Ebola. There’s no evidence that a mandatory quarantine will help fight the disease’s spread, and the CDC hasn’t called for one.
Hundreds of other American aid workers have encountered Ebola patients in Africa and were not quarantined upon their return to the United States. There are no current plans to quarantine the thousands of U.S. military personnel headed to West Africa to fight Ebola, either.
Hickox says she hasn’t been told how long she’ll be forced to stay at the hospital. “To put me in prison,” she told CNN, “is just inhumane.”
The emerging backlash over quarantining health workers has gotten politicians to back down, a bit. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who initially stressed that New York City’s first case of Ebola wasn’t cause for panic, before reversing and claiming it was a major concern — on Sunday relaxed the quarantine to say that aid workers in New York could go back to their homes.
Christie made a similar announcement, suggesting that New Jersey residents could be quarantined in the homes too. But according to Christie’s statement, “non-residents would be transported to their homes if feasible and, if not, quarantined in New Jersey.”
Hickox is from Maine.
Public health groups and volunteers have stressed that states’ decision to confine Ebola aid workers under mandatory quarantines will hurt the global fight against Ebola, because it will convince some workers not to go in the first place. It also could be a source of stress for health workers as they return to America, emotionally spent and seeking comfort of their own.
As Vox’s Sarah Kliff poignantly noted, Hickox spent her last night at an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone, trying to save a 10-year-old girl from dying.
“I had spent a month watching children die, alone,” Hickox told the Dallas Morning News. “I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.”
Now back in America, Kacie Hickox spent last night confined to a tent.
Chris Christie spent last night at home in his mansion.