NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The health care worker who was quarantined at a New Jersey hospital because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa is sharply criticizing the way her case has been handled.
Kaci Hickox, the first traveler quarantined under Ebola watches in New Jersey and New York, gave a first-person account to the Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1w4Vi4J), which was posted on the paper’s website Saturday.
Hickox said she was stopped at Newark Liberty International and was questioned over several hours after touching down Friday. She said none of those who questioned her would explain what was going on or what would happen to her.
Hickox is a nurse who had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. Officials said she was taken to a hospital after developing a fever, but Hickox said she was merely flushed because she was upset by the process.
Hickox tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation. Hospital officials would not say whether she would remain in the hospital for the entire 21-day, state-ordered quarantine period or be moved to another location.
The Ebola watch mandates 21 days of quarantine of medical workers and other airline passengers who have had contact with Ebola victims.
“This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me,” Hickox said of her quarantine. “I am scared about how health care 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. … The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.”
Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, raised similar concerns about the quarantine. He said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie must provide more information about how it was determined that mandatory quarantines were medically necessary.
Ofer said the government’s response should not be driven by fear, noting that “forcibly detaining people” can frighten the public and may deter genuinely sick people who fear quarantine from seeking treatments. He also said it could discourage caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients.
“Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers,” Ofer said.
Christie, campaigning Saturday in Iowa for a fellow Republican, said he sympathizes for Hickox but said he has to do what he can to ensure public health safety.
Doctors Without Borders said Hickox was quarantined in an unheated tent at University Hospital in Newark. The group said she was given paper scrubs to wear and was permitted to bring her personal belongings into the tent.
Hickox’s mother, Karen Hickox, said Saturday her daughter probably wasn’t expecting to be quarantined upon her return to the United States, but is dealing with it.
“I spoke with her (Friday and Saturday),” she said. “She was more frustrated (Friday) but there were some tears (Saturday) … If you knew her, she’s a very compassionate person but she doesn’t usually get emotional.”
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