FORT KENT, Maine (CN) - State officials failed to prove the necessity of limiting the movement of a Maine nurse exposed to Ebola, a judge ruled Friday, reducing earlier restrictions.
Kaci Hickox, who left West Africa on Oct. 20 after spending several weeks there treating Ebola patients, has repeatedly defied requests from state officials to remain isolated until a 21-day incubation period for Ebola ends on Nov. 10.
New Jersey had detained Hickox for several days upon her arrival from Sierra Leone, at which time she presented with fluctuating temperatures.
Since her arrival in Maine, however, Hickox has not shown signs of infection.
Soon after Hickox spurred controversy by riding her bike around her town on Thursday, Chief Judge Charles LaVerdlere signed a two-page order that says Hickox must submit to direct and active monitoring and keep out of public places, such as malls.
Though the order said Hickox could leave her home for "non-congregate public activities (i.e., walking or jogging in the park)," it required her to stay a minimum of 3 feet away from others.
After holding a hearing Friday morning, LaVerdlere lifted most of those restrictions.
Hickox is "not infectious," the new ruling emphasizes.
Though LaVerdlere conceded that the state's request had "critical implications on [Hickox's] freedom," he noted that the earlier order was necessary to "maintain the status quo."
Indeed the "public's right to be protected from the potential severe harm posed by transmission of this devastating disease" merits consideration, as well, the order states.
LaVerdlere said Friday that direct active monitoring of Hickox remains necessary, and that the nurse has been, "and intends to continue," cooperating on this point.
"The state has not met its burden at this time to prove by clear and convincing evidence that limiting [Hickox's] movements to the degree requested is 'necessary to protect other individuals from the dangers of infection,' however," the order states.
LaVerdlere said it will be necessary to isolate Hickox if circumstances change, but that direct active monitoring will bring this to light soon enough.
In addition to monitoring, the new order says Hickox must coordinate her travel with public health authorities and give immediate notice to those authorities "if any symptom appears." (Emphasis in original.)
The ruling also asks the public to remember "the debt of gratitude" owed to Hickox and all professionals who have lent their "skills to aid, comfort, and care for individuals striken with a terrible disease."
"Having said that, [Hickox] should understand that the court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola," LaVerdlere added. "The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational. However, whether that fear is rational or not, it is present and it is real. [Hickox's] actions at this point, as a health care professional, need to demonstrate her full understanding of human nature and the real fear that exists. She should conduct herself accordingly."
Reporters previously quoted Hickox as complaining about the efforts to restrict her. "I'm not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it's not science-based," she reportedly said.
The Thursday quarantine order had included a petition for a public health order from Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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