Nurse Kaci Hickox took off on a bike ride Thursday morning with her boyfriend, defying the Ebola quarantine Maine officials have vowed to take legal action to enforce.
"It is definitely worth it," she told reporters upon returning from her bike ride. “There is no legal action against me so I am free to go out."
State officials have said they'll find a way to legally enforce the quarantine of health workers who return to the U.S. from Ebola-stricken regions, but no legal action has been filed, so under Maine laws, Hickox is indeed free to move about. "It feels amazing," she said of being out on the road.
The office of Maine Gov. Paul LePage declared Thursday that negotiations had "failed despite repeated efforts by state officials to work with" Hickox. The governor's office said in a statement that Maine will now "exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law." It's unclear what legal action LePage will take.
“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” Hickox said from the front steps of her house on Wednesday night, describing how she’d spent the day trying to negotiate with her home state of Maine over what she feels is a medically unnecessary and politically motivated quarantine, offering to avoid public transportation and stay local, which officials said wasn't enough.
Since arriving in the U.S. from Sierra Leone on Friday, Hickox has become the face of the mandatory quarantine policies enacted by some states. After a month fighting Ebola in the West African country, she flew into and was first quarantined in New Jersey before being transported to Maine, where officials say they’ll file legal action to keep her home for 21 days, the longest incubation period known of for Ebola.
“I’m sticking to the science and away from the politics,” she said when asked to respond to the two Republican governors, LePage and New Jersey's Chris Christie, who have forced a quarantine on her. Some argue the move is politically motivated since LePage is up for reelection next week and Christie is widely expected to pursue a presidential bid in 2016.
“I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine,” she said. “But we have to make decisions based on science, and I am completely healthy. You could hug me. You could shake my hand. There is no way I could give you Ebola.”
Health officials say that forcing health aid workers to quarantine themselves for three weeks after returning home disincentivizes them from volunteering where they are most needed.
Hickox said she is protesting her mandatory quarantine because she fears what will happen to other aid workers returning from Ebola-ravaged countries. “I am fighting for something much more than myself,” she said. “It scares me to think of how they’re going to be treated and how they’re going to feel.”
Forced quarantine is stigmatizing, she said, and it is “painful” and “emotionally draining” to be told she cannot hug her friends if they visit her.
Aid agencies told NBC News that 47 volunteers have returned from Ebola hot zones without developing symptoms and just more than a hundred Americans are currently volunteering there. One Doctors Without Borders physician, Dr. Craig Spencer, was recently diagnosed with the disease in New York City. That development has turned Americans' attentions -- and fears -- to aid workers.
Hickox said she was working with officials who were directly monitoring her health. On a daily basis, they come to her house for a visual examination and called her to follow up. She offered to refrain from taking public transportation and to stay within the city limits, but that officials had rejected those offers, preferring that Hickox remain under quarantine.