NEW YORK (Reuters) - With no apology, New Jersey released on Monday a nurse ordered into involuntary quarantine after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and drove her home to Maine to complete her 21-day isolation.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offered no apologies and said he sees no reason to talk to Kaci Hickox, who has sharply criticized her treatment by state officials.
Hickox was the first person put into quarantine on Friday under state policies that exceeded precautions adopted by the U.S. government. Christie and his New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo put the quarantines in place a day after a doctor returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa tested positive for the virus in New York City.
Hickox’s case came to embody the dilemma federal and state officials are facing in trying to prevent the spread of Ebola at home while balancing the desire to enable American doctors and nurses to help fight the epidemic at its heart in West Africa.
Hickox, who had worked with the medical charity Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, was isolated in a tent at a Newark hospital even after testing negative for the virus.
“She’s a good person and went over and was doing good work over in West Africa. But she needs to understand that the obligation of elected officials is to protect the public health of all the people,” Christie told reporters on Monday.
“And if that inconvenienced her for a period of time, that’s what we need to do to protect the public. That’s what we will continue to do. So there’s been no reversal or change in any way of our policy or our approach,” the governor added.
Hickox criticized her quarantine, saying public health experts and not politicians should be making such decisions.
“I feel like my basic human rights have been violated,” Hickox told CNN on Monday.
Hickox took particular issue with Christie for having said she was “obviously ill,” words that he repeated on Monday.
“The first thing I would say to Governor Christie is that I wish he would be more careful about his statements related to my medical condition,” Hickox said. “I am completely healthy and with no symptoms.”
“If he knew anything about Ebola, he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious,” Hickox added.
Her lawyers had said she was considering a lawsuit challenging the quarantine policy, arguing that her constitutional right to due process was violated but say such a suit now is unlikely.
Christie, a potential 2016 Republican U.S. presidential candidate known for his combative personality, said he has no plans to speak with Hickox about her concerns.
“Listen, I have no reason to talk to her. My job is not to represent her; it’s to represent the people of New Jersey,” he said.
Christie said his state was providing transportation for her to Maine, whose health officials “will take over her care and monitoring from there” as she completes a 21-day quarantine at home. The quarantine matches the incubation period of the virus.
“She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours and she tested negative for Ebola so there’s no reason to keep her,” said Christie.
Maine Governor Paul LePage said his state will follow CDC guidelines for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients.
Hickox, a nurse with degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and the Johns Hopkins University, described her quarantine over the weekend in a commentary in the Dallas Morning News.
“I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?” she wrote.
Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Lisa Shumaker