New Jersey wants lawsuit from Ebola-quarantined nurse tossed

AP News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2016 6:17 PM
New Jersey wants lawsuit from Ebola-quarantined nurse tossed

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Lawyers for Gov. Chris Christie and state health officials asked a judge Friday to throw out a lawsuit from a nurse who was quarantined because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa in 2014.

State lawyers said in the response to Kaci Hickox's federal civil rights lawsuit that health workers acted with the public's safety in mind when they had her quarantined and that Christie and the other officials are immune from lawsuits over public health quarantines.

"As a nurse, Ms. Hickox acted in the best traditions of her profession by volunteering to treat Ebola-infected patients in Sierra Leone," the state wrote. "But on her return to the U.S., four separate readings revealed that she had an elevated temperature. Public health officials, acting in the same best traditions of their profession, properly had her quarantined."

The disease is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who's showing symptoms.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and a New York firm sued on behalf of Hickox, who was working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak, which killed thousands of people. When she returned via Newark Liberty International Airport, she was stopped, questioned and sent to stay in a tent outside a Newark hospital.

She said Christie's decision to quarantine her was made out of fear and was politically motivated. Christie, a Republican, was considering a run for president and has since entered the race.

Besides Christie, the lawsuit names as defendants former state health commissioner Mary O'Dowd and other health department employees. The lawsuit seeks at least $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and Hickox's lawyers say they hope the case will change a quarantine policy driven by politics instead of public health concerns.

The state says the primary objective of Christie, O'Dowd and other officials was the "safety and general welfare" of the public during the Ebola virus outbreak.

Hickox was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine for health care workers who came into contact with Ebola patients after Christie and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a stronger quarantine policy than federal standards. The White House and medical groups criticized their plan.

Hickox, a Maine resident at the time, said she was questioned in Newark by numerous people, including a man who spoke to her "aggressively as if she were a criminal and was wearing a weapon belt."

She said she didn't have a fever when her temperature was first taken, but a medical staffer using a temporal scanner told her she did have a fever. She said that was due to her being flushed from frustration, but it led to her being taken to the hospital, escorted by police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Hickox twice tested negative for Ebola but was kept quarantined for more than two days. She then was driven to Maine, where she decided against following the state's voluntary quarantine. A judge later gave her the OK to go wherever she pleased as long as she continued daily health monitoring. She has since moved to Oregon.

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This story has been corrected to remove an erroneous reference to the deadly Ebola outbreak being last year.