Quarantined Nurse Upset After She Tests Negative for Ebola, Held Against Will, ‘Treated Like A Criminal’

A nurse returning from Sierra Leone, a country hit hard by the Ebola outbreak, was detained at a New Jersey airport following questioning. The treatment she received was less than satisfactory, and now she is lashing out about new Ebola quarantine procedures. The nurse says she now fears for what other Doctors Without Borders health care professionals will experience upon return to the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kaci Hickox, a 33-year-old nurse from Maine who had been working with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was detained Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport under stepped-up protocols ordered by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Hickox was extremely unhappy with the way she was treated upon return, so upset that she wrote a self-pinned article for the Dallas Morning News discussing her entire experience.

Nurse Hickox returned to the U.S. on Friday. Upon her return, she was placed in quarantine at a New Jersey hospital where she has tested negative in a preliminary test for Ebola. However, the hospital says she will remain under mandatory quarantine for 21 days and will be monitored by public health officials regardless of her lack of symptoms and fever. Hickox says that from the second she stepped up to immigration officials and reported that she had just returned from Sierra Leone, she was treated differently.

Once the officials knew that the nurse had returned from an Ebola-stricken area, they took her to a room for “questioning.” Hickox claims that her initial temperature was 98 degrees. However, after being held for over three hours without any explanations or food, she was upset. She became irritated, and had worked herself up to the point that she became visible flush in the face. At this point, a second temperature was taken via a forehead scanner which noted a temperature of 101 degrees.

“The female officer looked smug. ‘You have a fever now,’ she said.”

Hickox told the officer that she was only registering a temperature because a forehead scanner was used. She told the officer the reading was unreliable when a person had a flush face, and instead she requested an oral temperature that would be more accurate. Instead of an oral temperature, Hickox was told she would be taken to a local hospital and quarantined. She noted a complete lack of organization among those doing the quarantine procedure. She says that no one even told her which hospital she would be taken to until she asked.

“I asked for the name and address of the facility. I realized that information was only shared with me if I asked.”

Hickox says that she was escorted by eight police cars with sirens blaring, and that at this point she still didn’t understand what she had done wrong or why she was being treated in this manner. At the hospital, Hickox says she was proven correct, she did not have a fever. The doctor took her temperature with an oral thermometer which read 98.6 degrees. He then proceeded to take it again with a forehead scanner and it read 101 degrees.

“After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felts my neck and looked at the temperature again. ‘There’s no way you have a fever,’ he said. ‘Your face is just flushed.'”

Even though the temperature was within the normal range, a blood test for Ebola was sent off. The test came back negative. However, Hickox says the ordeal is not over. She is going to have to remain in mandatory quarantine for 21 days regardless of symptoms and the negative Ebola test results. She claims that the conditions of her stay leave much to be desired, as she is staying in a tent erected outside the hospital. She says she is given standard hospital food, no television, no books, and no magazines. She is forced to wear a paper gown in a tent that Doctor Without Borders claims is not heated. Doctors Without Borders made a statement regarding the incident, and hopes to work out a better situation for nurses and doctors to come.

“Doctors Without Borders is very concerned about the conditions and uncertainty she is facing and is attempting to obtain information from hospital officials. While measures to protect public health are of paramount importance, they must be balanced against the rights of health workers returning from fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to fair and reasonable treatment and the full disclosure of information to them, along with information about intended courses of action from local and state health authorities.”

However, a spokeswoman for University Hospital said that Ms. Hickox was in a “climate-controlled, extended care facility” inside a building that was part of the hospital.

“While we understand that the required quarantine is an inconvenience, it is our primary goal to make sure that the patient is as comfortable as possible. We have given our prompt attention to provide the patient with basic needs and to accommodate additional requests made by the patient.”

New Jersey and New York government officials agree that the situation isn’t pleasant for anyone, but note that they are trying to protect the public. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says his obligation is to “protect the public health” first.

“My first and foremost obligation is to protect the public health and safety of the people of New Jersey. So I’m sorry if in any way she was inconvenienced, but inconvenience that could occur from having folks that are symptomatic and ill out amongst the public is a much, much greater concern of mine. So certainly nothing was done intentionally to try to inconvenience her or try to make her uncomfortable.”

What do you think of the actions taken by New York and New Jersey government officials? Should all people returning from an Ebola-stricken region be required to enter into mandatory quarantine upon return to the U.S. regardless of if they are presenting symptoms?