Nurse Kaci Hickox Criticizes Mandatory Ebola Quarantine For Going Too Far
The governors of New Jersey and New York announced a new joint protocol on Friday to help curb an Ebola outbreak in the most populated area of the United States. From now on, all incoming passengers from Ebola-stricken countries must enter a 21-day quarantine if they had contact with Ebola patients. That afternoon, a health care worker arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport from treating patients in West Africa was quarantined under the new guidelines. The nurse, Kaci Hickox, is now criticizing her mandatory Ebola quarantine, saying it was "not a situation I would wish on anyone."
A nurse with degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and Johns Hopkins University, Hickox was treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone for Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization that also employed New York doctor and Ebola patient Craig Spencer. Because of her recent work and travel history, Hickox was immediately interrogated by federal health officials when she entered Newark Airport.
According to her first-person account published on Saturday in The Dallas Morning News, Hickox was taken to a "quarantine office," where she was questioned for four hours without being told any information. Hickox writes in her essay:
Three hours passed. No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me. I called my family to let them know that I was OK. I was hungry and thirsty and asked for something to eat and drink. I was given a granola bar and some water. I wondered what I had done wrong.
Once four hours passed, Hickox writes that her temperature was taken for a second time. Upon arrival at Newark, her body temperature was a normal 98 degrees, but now the forehead scanner detected a temperature of 101 degrees. The health officials were worried, but Hickox claims her supposed fever was due to her flushed cheeks:
My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101. The female officer looked smug. “You have a fever now,” she said.
I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset.
Another three hours passed without Hickox receiving any information from the federal officials. Then, at 7 p.m., the nurse says she was taken to a local hospital, where she was placed in an isolation tent. Eight police cars reportedly escorted her to the hospital, making Hickox question "what I had done wrong."
At the hospital, Hickox claims the doctor who attended to her was "puzzled," wondering why she was brought to the isolation tent when it was obvious she didn't have a fever. Hickox writes:
“Your temperature is 98.6,” they said. “You don't have a fever but we were told you had a fever.” After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felts my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There’s no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”
Even though Hickox tested negative for Ebola on Friday, she'll have to remain under a 21-day quarantine because of the new guidelines set by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. For Hickox, the way health care workers returning from West Africa are being treated by the state and federal governments is a nightmare. "Will [my colleagues be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?" she writes.
Her harsh criticism of the exhaustive ordeal she faced on Friday goes deeper than being refused food or water for prolonged hours, or failing to receive information from officials. "The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity," Hickox writes.
As of now, all the Doctors Without Borders nurse sees from the state and federal governments is "a frenzy of disorganization [and] fear."
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