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Bicycle-Riding Ebola Zombie Nurses?

Acker + Associates P.C. Newsletter


Ebola Law 101

10/24–Nurse Kaci Hickox returned to the United States from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. Upon her arrival in New Jersey, she registered a temperature of 101. (Later her temperature was determined to be the normal 98.6.) Pursuant to New Jersey policy, Ms. Hickox was quarantined in a tent for the weekend.

10/27–Ms. Hickox was transported to her home in Maine (via two black SUVs with tinted windows).

10/30–Ms. Hickox went on a bicycle ride with her boyfriend and met with reporters, violating Maine’s quarantine policy.

10/30–A Maine judge signed a “temporary order” limiting Hickox’s movement.

Ms. Hickox claims that she has experienced no symptoms and that Maine’s policy is not medically or legally sound. (Her boyfriend claims that the government has “messed with the wrong redhead.”)

Does the government have the legal muscle to keep Ms. Hickox at home…and off her bike?

The federal government doesn’t mind her bicycle riding. Current CDC guidelines for healthcare workers only require self-monitoring and avoiding public transportation, as long as one remains symptom free. (See Ebola: The Power to Isolate for an analysis of the legal authority for federally mandated quarantines.)

However, Maine officials consider Ms. Hickox’s activities as violating its 21-day home quarantine for Ebola health workers returning from West Africa. Maine courts may interpret Maine law differently.

According to Maine law, a court may order confinement when needed to avoid a clear and immediate public health threat. Since Ms. Hickox is not showing any symptoms, and health authorities have indicated that Ebola is not contagious unless one is experiencing symptoms, the clear and immediate public health threat may prove a difficult standard to meet.

What about Oregon? Oregon law has a similar standard–clear and convincing evidence that confinement is necessary to prevent a serious risk to the health and safety of others. Confinement may occur before a court hearing, upon the determination that probable cause exists to believe that the individual requires immediate detention to avoid a clear and immediate danger to others.

Whether or not a court upholds Maine’s attempt to quarantine Ms. Hickox, she may create serious legal ramifications for herself in the event she did infect another with Ebola. At a minimum, her refusal to comply with the state quarantine policy may help another establish a civil negligence claim against her.

Regardless of whether you think of Ms. Hickox as a crusader, an egocentric, or a fiery red-head, we should all thank her. With Halloween upon us, she has provided a great costume idea–a bicycle-riding Ebola zombie nurse.

Happy Halloween!