Governor Paul LePage said he’d try to force nurse Kaci Hickox to abide by Maine’s Ebola quarantine, escalating a confrontation between the previously little-known aid worker and the political leaders of two states.
Hickox, who has shown no symptoms since a brief fever, was kept in a tent at a New Jersey hospital after returning from treating patients in Sierra Leone before being released by Governor Chris Christie. She said yesterday she wouldn’t follow isolation orders in Maine, where she lives. LePage, a 66-year-old Republican facing a re-election fight Nov. 4, said he would try to make her.
“We are hopeful that the selfless health workers who are brave and caring enough to care for Ebola patients in a foreign country will be willing to take reasonable steps to protect the residents of their own country,” Mary Mayhew, Maine’s Health and Human Services commissioner, said at a news briefing. “However, we will pursue legal authority, if necessary, to ensure risk is minimized for all Mainers.”
“We are in the process of filing that court order,” Mayhew said late yesterday.
Hickox hasn’t received any legal orders from Maine authorities, her lawyer, Norman Siegel of New York-based Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans LLP, said late yesterday by e-mail. Siegel is the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Government officials have been struggling to calm fears of contagion while not penalizing aid workers who venture to countries at the center of the still-raging epidemic. In West Africa, the virus has infected about 10,000 people and killed about half, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., one man who traveled from Liberia died.
A state trooper in an unmarked car was parked outside Hickox’s house yesterday in Fort Kent near the Canadian border, and said he was monitoring her movement and ensuring her safety, according to the Bangor Daily News. A worker from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention visited Hickox, the newspaper said.
Hickox, a 33-year-old volunteer for Doctors Without Borders, said yesterday that Maine’s orders were unjust.
“I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free,” Hickox said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show.
Hickox would fight any move to force her to stay at home, said another lawyer for her, Steven Hyman, a partner in New York at McLaughlin & Stern LLP.
Doctors Without Borders “strongly disagrees with blanket forced quarantine for health care workers returning from Ebola affected countries,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.
Hickox was detained for Ebola monitoring at Newark Liberty International Airport after returning from Africa and was taken to nearby University Hospital on Oct. 24. She said the fever she registered upon arrival was due to anger. Two days later, she criticized Christie for her detention.
The governor let her travel to Maine after she remained asymptomatic. The 21-day quarantine would end Nov. 10.
“I could care less that she hired a lawyer,” Christie said yesterday at a press briefing in Little Ferry. “I hope that for the public good and for her own good that she decides to comply with the quarantine that they’ve requested in Maine.”
Fort Kent, population 4,090, marks the beginning of 2,328-mile (3,746 kilometer) U.S. Route 1. It’s at the top of the state’s northernmost county, Aroostook, across the St. John River from Canada.
“You don’t look out for cops; you look for moose when you’re driving,” said Marc Chasse, a retired chiropractor who’s lived on Main Street for 50 years.
Even if Hickox were to develop symptoms, it would be difficult to transmit Ebola in such a sparsely populated area. The County, as Aroostook is called throughout the state, is almost the size of Massachusetts and home to just 70,000 people.
“She can go walk the woods and never meet a soul for the day,” said John Martin, a political-science professor at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
“I don’t think that people are overly concerned,” he said. “I think they’re more concerned about the publicity it brings.”
The town was buzzing about the Fort Kent Community School’s girls soccer team, which played in the Eastern Maine Class C quarterfinals yesterday.
“It’s hard to tell whether all the police and people are here for the soccer game or the Ebola case,” Martin said.
LePage’s attempt to keep Hickox sequestered comes at a crucial political moment. The governor, a Tea Party favorite, has had a contentious first term.
He kept a roll of duct tape on his desk as a reminder to keep quiet after he alluded to sodomy while criticizing an opponent. He joked about bombing the state’s largest newspaper and last year was quoted as saying the nation’s first black president “hates white people.”
About 38 percent of eligible voters would re-elect the governor while 34 percent would vote for his Democratic opponent, Mike Michaud, according to a Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll conducted between Oct. 15 and Oct. 21. Another 10 percent plan to vote for independent Eliot Cutler. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.