Maine nurse Kaci Hickox has been making headlines for days now after speaking out against her government-imposed Ebola quarantine. The first isolation order came when the nurse returned to the country from West Africa last week, after closely working with Ebola-infected patients. With several U.S. outbreaks causing widespread panic of late, health officials immediately put the nurse into a quarantine tent in New Jersey for three days. Once she was released, she was transported back to her home in Fort Kent, Maine, and under state law was asked to stay at home another 21 days.
“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines," she told Matt Lauer on Wednesday. "I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free."
Hickox, who indeed tested negative for the virus, has been at odds with health officials ever since. Their concern stems from the very nature of the disease, which remains dormant within the system for some time before showing its full effects. In fact, just last week a New York doctor was found to have contracted the disease after spending several days traveling around the city, symptom-free.
But Hickox views the mandate to be a violation of her rights—which is why on Thursday, after just one day of abiding by the home quarantine, the nurse publicly defied the order by leaving her house and taking off on a bike ride with her boyfriend. As it soon turned out, this wasn't just any old bike ride—the morning jaunt was caught on camera by news media and even tailed by police.
On Thursday, Maine Governor Paul LePage tried once more to negotiate some compromise between the state and Hickox, sharing with ABC News that the state would drop the quarantine provided Hickox simply submitted to a new blood test. But later that day, LePage's office announced that negotiations had failed.
The incident has since caused many to wonder whether or not Hickox's actions might impact the way state and local governments respond to possible infectious disease outbreaks in the future. After all, though Hickox's quarantine was imposed by the state of Maine, it's actually considered legally to be a "voluntary" one, and can only be truly enforced if a court order bars Hickox from leaving her home.
But after yesterday's bike ride, things could change real fast if the state decides to change the law, making future quarantine laws involuntary.
“The court could be plowing new legal ground,” Robert Field, a professor of law and public health at Drexel University, told Time. “The decision would only be binding in Maine, but it could influence the thinking of courts around the country.”
What do you think about Hickox's defiance of the quarantine? Out of line or well within her rights?