New Jersey Releases Nurse Under Ebola Quarantine, But Chris Christie Is Not Backing Down
Ebola has spun the Tri-State area into a panic following the news that a New York doctor returning from West Africa had contracted the deadly Ebola virus. On Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo instated a 21-day mandatory quarantine for travelers from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients — a provision that directly targets health care workers. Federal health officials at the Centers for Disease Control aren't too happy right now, but Christie isn't backing down from the mandatory Ebola quarantine, even as the White House and the first nurse to be placed under quarantine in New Jersey threaten action.
On Friday, nurse and Doctors Without Borders volunteer Kaci Hickox was the first person to be placed under the quarantine order in New Jersey. Hickox had just returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, and though she did not have a fever, as she documents in a first-person account for The Dallas Morning News, she was placed in an isolation tent at Newark University Hospital. "Will [my colleagues} be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?" Hickox wrote.
Hickox tested negative for Ebola on Saturday morning, and currently has no signs of the virus. After being forcibly held for three days, and hiring a civil rights lawyer threatening to sue the New Jersey government, Hickox will be released on Monday and free to return home to Maine. New Jersey state officials made the announcement Monday morning, following a weekend full of criticism and outspoken disapproval from federal health and White House officials:
Since testing negative for Ebola on early Saturday morning, the patient being monitored in isolation at University Hospital in Newark has thankfully been symptom free for the last 24 hours. As a result, and after being evaluated in coordination with the CDC and the treating clinicians at University Hospital, the patient is being discharged. ... 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 added that Hickox is still "subject to a mandatory New Jersey quarantine order," but it's unclear whether or not she'll be forced under quarantine at home in Maine. Hickox will be transported to Maine via a private carrier, according to the health department.
This latest development is a blow to Christie, who strongly defended his actions in recent days. The New Jersey governor sent out a series of tweets Monday morning quoting the health department's statement. Some of those tweets defended the state's Ebola protocol and refuted accusations from Hickox, who alleged that she received "inhumane" treatment while under quarantine.
Hickox told CNN's Candy Crowley in a telephone interview on Sunday that she was being held in prison-like conditions, with a portable toilet but "no shower facilities" and "no connection with the outside world except my iPhone which I insisted that I brought with me when I arrived late Friday night." She said her "basic human rights" were being violated.
Christie, the popular, brash-talking governor who likes to do things "the Jersey way," has refused to repeal New Jersey's mandatory 21-day Ebola quarantine, despite receiving criticism from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a subdivision of the CDC. Fauci has expressed that the quarantine is not only unnecessary, but harmful to health care workers. "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," Fauci told The Associated Press.
White House officials have also pressed Christie, as well as Cuomo, to revise their mandated quarantine. According to The New York Times, White House aids advised the governors to make policy based on medical science, reiterating that the 21-day quarantine may be an unwarranted overreaction.
With pressure from the federal government mounting — a lawsuit possibly on the horizon — Christie tweeted Sunday night that the 21-day quarantine can be done at home if they're New Jersey residents, or are able to receive transportation to their respective states.
The New Jersey governor added that health department officials will "make those judgements were need be" for returning health care workers who are non-Jersey residents. However, Christie has no plans to change the Ebola protocol, even as the situation continues to escalate. He told reporters on Sunday that public safety for New Jersey residents comes first:
We need to protect the public safety of the folks in the most densely populated area in the country, and that's what we're going to do. And I understand that this has made this woman [Hickox] uncomfortable, and I'm sorry that she's uncomfortable. But the fact is, I have the people of New Jersey first and foremost, and a responsibility to protect their public health — that's exactly what I'm going to do.
And that is, truly, "the Jersey way" of handling Ebola, according to Gov. Chis Christie.
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