After enduring mandatory isolation, the nurse who volunteered in Sierra Leone to try to halt the spread of Ebola is finally getting her normal life back — albeit with some caveats. Nurse Kaci Hickox settled her lawsuit over the Ebola quarantine with the state of Maine Monday, bringing a quick end to legal proceedings. And considering the quarantine period was only 21 days to begin with, aiming for a quick end is pretty understandable.
Basically, Hickox is now allowed to freely travel as she pleases, though she's under orders to continue self-monitoring her health, and to report any symptoms that arise. Ebola has a three-week incubation period, during which victims become feverish, ahead of the more overt symptoms of the virus — severe headaches, internal and external bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea among them. Hickox hasn't displayed these symptoms to this point, and has tested negative for the virus, which obviously factors into her frustration at being forced into quarantine. After days in isolation in a tent near a New Jersey hospital, however, she was sent home to Maine, where she made headlines by violating her ordered quarantine with a high-profile bicycle ride.
Speaking to NBC's Chuck Todd on Meet The Press Sunday, Hickox blasted Christie's decision, claiming it was based on "an abundance of politics," not caution.
Things finally broke Hickox's way on Friday, when a Maine judge ruled that she be allowed to leave her home for whatever reason at own her discretion, albeit while under orders to report any symptoms that arise. Her settlement essentially agrees to abide by that temporary ruling until Nov. 10.
All the tumult might seem puzzling on its face, given the relatively short stay Hickox still had ahead of her, but there may be more behind her efforts than just securing her own freedom of movement: Hickox has been promoting the science and facts of Ebola, instead of the paranoia that's swept up around it.
Basically, if she's tested negative, and is asymptomatic, she poses no threat to anyone around her. Ebola is only transmissible through bodily fluid contact from somebody who's displaying symptoms, according to basically all the medical science that's been brought to bear on this (in spite of what Rand Paul might think). In other words, while some caution is fair, it's important to keep a clear view of the facts.
It's a tactic that's been favored by President Obama, as well — there have reportedly been concerns within the administration that these sorts of blanket quarantines on health workers returning from West Africa could serve as an active disincentive for further people to volunteer, which would be exactly the wrong response. He alluded to this in an appearance with a group of volunteer Ebola health workers last week.
What we need right now is these shock troops that are out there leading globally. And we can't discourage that, we need to encourage it, and applaud it.
The people and health care systems of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia badly need outside help right now, and making people reluctant to give it could prove costly. Luckily, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that rates of new Ebola infections in Liberia are finally trending downward, an early yet promising sign that efforts are paying off. And if/when the outbreak is finally put to bed, it'll be in large part thanks to the courage and selflessness of people like Kaci Hickox.
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