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Maine judge rejects Ebola quarantine of Kaci Hickox

A judge in Maine has rejected a state bid to limit nurse Kaci Hickox’s movements as a precaution against Ebola.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who treated Ebola patients in Africa and defied Maine’s attempts to place her in quarantine, will be allowed to leave her home but must be actively monitored for symptoms of the virus, a judge ruled Friday.

Maine District Court Chief Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere turned down the state’s request to prohibit Hickox from being in public places or using public transportation. He said the state did not prove its argument that such restrictions were needed to protect the public’s health.

“The state has not met its burden at this time to prove by clear and convincing evidence that limiting [Hickox’s] movements to the degree requested is ‘necessary to protect other individuals from the dangers of infection,’” the judge wrote. “According to the information presented by the court, respondent currently does not show any symptoms of Ebola and is therefore not infectious.”

The ruling was a victory for Hickox and her allies. The nurse had insisted that since she had no symptoms of Ebola, it would violate her civil rights to put her in quarantine. President Obama, medical experts and some politicians have opposed efforts in at least six states to impose restrictions that are tougher than federal guidelines for fear it would prevent healthcare workers from going to Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak.

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“I am very satisfied with the decision,” Hickox said at a televised news conference outside her home in Fort Kent, Maine. “It’s a good day.” She added that her “thoughts, prayers and gratitude” remained with those who are still battling Ebola in West Africa, where the virus has claimed about 5,000 lives.

Gov. Paul LePage, who is locked in a tight reelection battle with two other candidates, called the ruling unfortunate.

“As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers,” LePage said in a statement. “The judge has eased restrictions with this ruling and I believe it is unfortunate. However, the state will abide by law.”

On Thursday, LaVerdiere temporarily restricted Hickox’s movements, limited her travel and banned her from public places, as the state had requested. The Friday ruling superseded the earlier order and is in effect until a full hearing is held. It was unclear whether such a hearing will take place; Hickox’s 21-day Ebola observation period expires Nov. 10.

The latest ruling orders Hickox to monitor her temperature, coordinate her travel with public health officials and immediately notify the state if she develops symptoms.

At her news conference, Hickox said she had no problem abiding with all three conditions, which largely conform to CDC guidelines. She said she had already been checking her temperature.

Hickox has been staying in her home in Fort Kent, a rural town at the northern tip of the state. In recent days, she has left the house at least twice, once to speak to reporters and the other time to take a bicycle ride with her boyfriend.

Hickox became the face of the latest legal battle over Ebola when she arrived last week in New Jersey, where she was detained in a tent at University Hospital in Newark. She repeatedly protested the conditions at the hospital and her mandatory quarantine. She and other medical experts have said such isolation was not based on science, but on public fear of the disease.

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Maine originally sought a tougher form of quarantine, arguing that Hickox remained at risk of becoming ill with Ebola until the end of a 21-day incubation period, Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in the court papers.

In his ruling, LaVerdiere praised Hickox for her generosity and her compassion in traveling to Sierra Leone to treat Ebola cases. “We need to remember as we go through this matter that we owe her and all professionals who give of themselves in this way a debt of gratitude,” he wrote.

The judge also noted how Ebola-related fears have mushroomed in recent weeks.

“The court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola,” he wrote.

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“However, whether that fear is rational or not, it is present and it is real. Respondent’s actions at this point, as a healthcare professional, need to demonstrate her full understanding of human nature and the real fear that exists. She should guide herself accordingly.”

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