FORT KENT — A judge issued a new ruling Friday that removes some of the restrictions placed on Kaci Hickox, the nurse whom the state has been trying to quarantine since she returned to Maine this week after caring for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.
In a news conference held outside her house at 2 p.m., Hickox said the favorable decision is just the beginning of an ongoing discussion about Ebola. She thanked the support she had gotten from her community, across Maine and internationally.
“I know as a global community, we can end Ebola,” she said.
Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement earlier saying the judge’s ruling is unfortunate, but that the state would abide by it.
“As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers,” LePage said, reiterating his criticism of Hickox for not cooperating with restrictions placed on her by state officials.
Hickox did take issue with one statement by the state’s top health official, that her roommate had contracted Ebola. She said that was incorrect, but did not elaborate.
David Soley, a partner in the Maine law firm Bernstein Shur, which is representing Hickox, said Chief District Court Judge Charles LaVerdiere issued a moving oral decision that sets conditions for Hickox that she has intended to follow all along.
The new restrictions call for direct active monitoring of her condition, coordination of travel with public officials and a requirement that the state be alerted as soon as Hickox develops symptoms, Soley said. It does not prevent her from leaving her house or being in contact with other people.
In his ruling, the judge said Hickox and all health care workers fighting the disease deserve gratitude.
“We would not be here today unless (Hickox) generously, kindly and with compassion lent her skills to aid,comfort, and care for individuals stricken with a terrible disease,” LaVerdiere said in his decision.
He said 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. 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,” he said. “(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 guide herself accordingly.”
LaVerdiere noted in his decision that it has critical implication for Hickox’s freedom “as guaranteed by the U.S. and Maine Constitutions as well as the public’s right to be protected from the potential severe harm posed by transmission of this devastating disease.”
He said he issued his temporary order Thursday maintaining the status quo so he could review in detail the arguments posed by both sides.
LaVerdiere said the restrictions he authorized are “necessary to protect other individuals from the dangers of infection.” The state was unable to prove that the limits it proposed on Hickox’s movements were necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.
If she begins to show symptoms, then she will need to be isolated, he said.
The judge’s decision was made public because Hickox waived her right to confidentiality.
A little more than an hour after the decision was issued, a Maine State Police trooper who had been stationed outside Hickox’s home left.
After a campaign stop in Yarmouth on Friday, LePage expressed disappointment with the judge’s ruling.
“We don’t know what we don’t know about Ebola,” LePage said. “And I’m concerned, but (the judge) ruled, and as a governor I took an oath to honor the rulings of the court and the laws, and I’m going to do that.”
LePage also took a jab at Hickox.
“This has been one of the disappointments so far, she has violated every promise she’s made so far, so I can’t trust her,” LePage said. “I don’t trust her. And I don’t trust that we know enough about this disease to be so callous.”
The new rules will be in place until a full hearing on the state’s petition, which is scheduled for Tuesday – Election Day.
“The judge issued a very beautiful and moving order in the case. I listened with tears in my eyes,” Soley said.
The judge on Thursday had issued a temporary order directing Hickox to follow a series of restrictions that mirrored recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines for patients with “some risk” of Ebola.
Hickox’s lawyers agreed on Thursday that she would abide by the restrictions and stay in her home until at least Friday morning or when the court issued another decision prior to the hearing. LaVerdiere made his subsequent ruling before noon Friday.
Hickox is pleased with the developments, Soley said.