By Joseph Ax and Ellen Wulfhorst
A nurse who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone was being allowed to go to her home state of Maine after New Jersey forced her into quarantine, and the U.S. military said Monday it was isolating personnel returning from West Africa.
A dozen soldiers were in isolation at a military base in Italy, including Major General Darryl Williams who oversaw the military’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak, even though none are showing symptoms of the virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Dozens more troops will be isolated in the coming days as they rotate out of West Africa, where the U.S. military has been building infrastructure to help health authorities treat Ebola victims, the Pentagon said. Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, described the precautions as “enhanced monitoring.”
With concerns about the spread of Ebola to the United States still high, a 5-year-old boy who arrived from Guinea has exhibited a low-grade fever and will be tested for the virus in New York, city officials said. They said the results will be available later on Monday.
The case of nurse Kaci Hickox, put into quarantine on Friday under a New Jersey policy that exceeded precautions adopted by the U.S. government, underscored the dilemma that federal and state officials are facing in trying to prevent the spread of Ebola.
Governor Chris Christie, who has defending his state’s policy of automatic quarantine for medical workers returning from treating patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, said on Twitter that Hickox would be allowed to return to Maine and can complete her 21-day quarantine at home.
The New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement that Hickox “has thankfully been symptom free for the last 24 hours” and that in coordination with federal health officials and her doctors “the patient is being discharged.”
“She will remain subject to New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine order while in New Jersey. Health officials in Maine have been notified of her arrangements and will make a determination under their own laws on her treatment when she arrives,” the department said. The 21-day quarantine matches the incubation period of the virus.
The department said she will be taken to Maine “via a private carrier not via mass transit or commercial aircraft.”
Hickox, the first health worker quarantined under the rules, arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She was later put in isolation in a tent outside a hospital. She had said she planned to challenge her quarantine in a lawsuit, saying it violated her constitutional rights.
A lawsuit is now unlikely, her attorney said on Monday. “She was quietly happy,” said attorney Steven Hyman, who said he had spoken to the nurse by telephone. “She wants this part of her ordeal to be over. She wants to return to her life.”
Hickox publicly criticized her quarantine, saying public health experts and not politicians should be making quarantine decisions. The health department said she was “initially found to have no symptoms but later developed a fever,” prompting the decision to put her in isolation, it said.
Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. The handling of the first case, a Liberian visitor to Texas in September who died, was riddled with missteps. Two nurses who treated the man contracted the disease but have recovered.
The only patient now being treated for Ebola in the United States is a New York doctor, Craig Spencer, who was diagnosed on Thursday. He had worked in Guinea treating Ebola patients with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders.
Mandatory quarantine policies put in place on Friday by the governors of New York and New Jersey have been criticized by some health experts and federal officials amid concern the policies may discourage American doctors, nurses and others from traveling to West Africa to help in the fight against Ebola.
Federal officials say controlling Ebola in West Africa is paramount in the effort to keep it from spreading to the United States and elsewhere.
Those policies were a response to concern that federal guidelines did not go far enough to stop the spread of Ebola.
Medical professionals say Ebola is difficult to catch and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and not transmitted by asymptomatic people.