Kaci Hickox is a nurse who worked with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone as part of a Doctors Without Borders team. Last week she returned to the US, where Hickox was ordered immediately quarantined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After three days Hickox returned to Maine, where state officials expected she would stay in self-imposed home quarantine. Hickox and her lawyer have said she will not remain inside because she has not displayed Ebola-like symptoms.
Speaking on CNN, Hickox said she would take legal measures — if necessary — to preserve her right to move freely about the state. "I think we're only adding to a stigmatization that is not based on science or evidence."
Speaking on Boston Public Radio Wednesday, medical ethicist Art Caplan said he sided with Hickox. "She's absolutely right. Quarantine is not necessary in the war against Ebola." Caplan said there are very few ways to enforce quarantines. "If Kaci Hickox decides to wander out of her house tomorrow, it's not clear what Governor Page and various Maine authorities are gonna do. Are they going to shoot her? Tase her? Have a cop in a moon suit tackle her?"
"How many people right now in the US have Ebola?" Caplan asked. "One, which tells you you can control this disease with self-reporting. When you get symptoms you gotta call the health department. You probably don't have to restrict liberty of anybody who's not showing symptoms because they're not infectious."
Caplan said healthcare workers in African countries have developed expertise in combating Ebola, and the US would do well to follow their example. "We've had 40 years of Ebola in Africa — don't know how to treat it in terms of a cure, don't know how to prevent it in terms of a vaccine — but we know how to get it, and you really need to have close contact with bodily fluids," Caplan said. "It's tough to catch, and that's why there's one person in the US with Ebola."
We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community. (...) [W]e must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers, as well as anyone who visits our great state.
Caplan said the fight against healthcare workers sets a dangerous precedent. "We need all those people. They're the best-trained people we got. So, the quarantine idea, not only is it a bad idea, it's dangerous," Caplan said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Hickox remained quarantined in the home in Fort Kent.