Efforts to compromise with Maine nurse stall

AP News
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Posted: Oct 30, 2014 9:55 PM
Efforts to compromise with Maine nurse stall

FORT KENT, Maine (AP) — Insisting she is perfectly healthy, nurse Kaci Hickox again defied the state's Ebola quarantine Thursday by taking a bike ride with her boyfriend, and Maine health authorities struggled to reach a compromise that would limit her contact with others.

Hickox, 33, stepped out of her home on the remote northern edge of Maine for the second day in a row, practically daring authorities to make good on their threat to go to court to have her confined against her will. On Wednesday evening, she went outside for an impromptu news conference and shook a reporter's outstretched hand.

By evening, it was unclear whether the state had gone to court or whether there had been any progress toward ending the standoff that has become the nation's most closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola. The governor's office and Hickox's lawyers would not comment.

Hickox, who returned to the U.S. last week from treating Ebola victims in West Africa as a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, has been under what Maine is calling a voluntary quarantine at her home in this town of 4,300 people.

She has rebelled against the restrictions, saying that her rights are being violated and that she is no threat to others because she has no symptoms. She tested negative last weekend for Ebola, though it can take days for the virus to reach detectable levels.

Her 21-day quarantine — the incubation period for the Ebola virus — is scheduled to end on Nov. 10.

Gov. Paul LePage said state attorneys and Hickox's lawyers had discussed a scaled-down quarantine that would have allowed her to go for walks, runs and bicycle rides while preventing her from venturing into populated public places or coming within 3 feet of others.

Around midday, however, LePage said that the hours of negotiations had gone nowhere, and that he was prepared to use the full extent of his authority to protect the public.

"I was ready and willing — and remain ready and willing — to reasonably address the needs of health care workers meeting guidelines to assure the public health is protected," he said.

Hickox stepped into the media glare when she returned from Sierra Leone to become subject to a mandatory quarantine in New Jersey. After an uproar, she was released and traveled more than 600 miles to the small town on the Canadian border where she lives with her boyfriend.

She said she is following the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of daily monitoring for fever and other signs of the disease.

An unmarked state police cruiser followed Hickox on her hour-long morning bike ride on trails near her home, but police could not take action to detain her without a court order signed by a judge.

"I really hope that we can work things out amicably and continue to negotiate," she said.

Her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, met with reporters Thursday evening to tell them she was staying inside.

Addressing the bicycle ride, Wilbur said they purposefully rode away from town to avoid coming into contact with people. "We're not trying to push any limits here. We're members of this community, too, and we want to make people comfortable," he said.

Maine law allows a judge to confine someone if health officials demonstrate "a clear and immediate public health threat."

States have broad authority under long-established law to quarantine people to prevent the spread of disease. But legal experts said there are differences here that could work in Hickox's favor in court: People infected with Ebola are not contagious until they have symptoms, and the virus is not spread through casual contact.

Word made its way quickly around the town about Hickox.

Priscilla Staples said that some are fearful of Hickox's presence, but Hickox "has done nothing wrong, and she has every right in the world to go for a bike ride."

Some states like Maine, New York and New Jersey are going above and beyond the CDC guidelines to require automatic quarantines. So is the U.S military.

President Barack Obama, the nation's top infectious-disease expert and humanitarian groups have warned that such measures could cripple the fight against the disease at its source by discouraging volunteers like Hickox from going to West Africa, where the outbreak has sickened more than 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000 of them.

"The volunteers are heroes to the people they help, and they are heroes to our own countries. They should be treated like heroes when they return," Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in Brussels.

In other developments:

— Ebola fears infected a medical conference on the subject. Louisiana state health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical-diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.

— Liberia is making some progress in containing the outbreak, while Sierra Leone is "in a crisis situation which is going to get worse," the top anti-Ebola officials in the two countries said.

— The World Bank announced it will give an additional $100 million to help bring in more foreign health workers. That raises the money it has given to the fight to $500 million.

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Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle in Portland contributed to this story.