WATCH ABOVE: New York and New Jersey have implemented stricter isolation protocols on healthcare workers coming back from West Africa despite healthcare professionals saying it is unnecessary.
TORONTO – She was stopped at the airport, questioned for hours, and escorted by police cars to hospital so she could be quarantined. All along the way, U.S. nurse Kaci Hickox wondered what she had done wrong.
After threatening legal action and documenting her tumultuous return to the U.S., Hickox received the green light Monday to end her hospital quarantine.
Hickox was the first person forced into a three-week state-mandated hospital quarantine. After relentless criticism and backlash about the New Jersey mandate, officials released the nurse from hospital. Hickox will complete her monitoring from home.
“Since the patient had direct exposure to individuals suffering from the Ebola Virus in one of the three West African nations, she is subject to a mandatory New Jersey quarantine order,” New Jersey health officials said in a statement.
Now, they’ve arranged for Hickox to return to her home in Maine via private transport instead of public transit or commercial aircraft.
In a Dallas Morning News article, Hickox recounted her experience at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday afternoon. She had just returned from a stint with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone.
She said she was questioned for hours like she was a “criminal.” Even after her temperature appeared to be normal, she was still kept in an isolation room.
“This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me,” Hickox wrote.
“I am scared about how healthcare workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.”
Ultimately, Hickox stayed in a tent setup as an isolation ward next to University Hospital’s main building.
Doctors Without Borders released a statement outlining its concern: Hickox wasn’t provided with any information about her next steps, it was unclear how long her quarantine would last, and her tent wasn’t heated and she was dressed in paper scrubs.
(New Jersey officials have disputed the claim that she was housed in poor conditions.)
“While measures to protect public health are of paramount importance, they must be balanced against the rights of health workers returning from fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to fair and reasonable treatment and the full disclosure of information to them…,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement.
New York, New Jersey and Illinois imposed mandatory quarantines on travellers returning from West Africa who had contact with Ebola patients.
By the end of the weekend, New York’s governor backtracked on the strict policy – instead fieldworkers returning to New York soil could complete their quarantine at home, with compensation for food and lost wages. They could even see friends and family.
But New Jersey’s governer Chris Christie stood by his decision to quarantine Hickox, suggesting that it was in the public’s best interests.
“The fact of the matter is we’re going to protect the people of our state,” he said in a video.
“…I’m not going to step away for a minute from protecting the people of my state and our region. So I understand that she didn’t want to be there. She made that very clear from the beginning but my obligation is to all the people of New Jersey and we’re just going to continue to do that. So the critics are the critics no matter what you do there will be critics…,” he said.
Critics have even suggested the decision to quarantine healthcare workers returning from West Africa could discourage them from helping the Ebola-ravaged region.
In Canada, fieldworkers are advised against working during the 21-day incubation period. The time after their mission abroad is meant to be for rest and recuperation. If they head back to work quickly, they could encounter an illness, like a cold or flu, that might trigger Ebola-related concerns.
Médecins Sans Frontières says that if their fieldworkers encounter symptoms upon their return, they shouldn’t take public transportation, and should contact MSF immediately.
“Self quarantine is neither warranted nor recommended when a person is not displaying Ebola-like symptoms,” MSF says in its guidelines.