Kaci Hickox, the first nurse to be quarantined under a strict new policy on her return from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, criticized her treatment in a Dallas Morning News op-ed on Saturday.
Her words echoed concerns voiced by medical professionals that a mandatory 21-day quarantine for doctors and nurses who have treated Ebola patients would deter volunteers from signing on to fight the epidemic.
“I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa,” Hickox wrote. “I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.”
On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that they will require a 21-day quarantine for travelers arriving at airports in either state who have had contact with Ebola victims in West Africa. Their decision came a day after Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who had recently returned to New York from Guinea, tested positive for Ebola. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn soon followed suit with a mandatory quarantine in his state.
Hickox arrived at Newark Liberty International airport on Friday and was ushered into a quarantine office, where she was kept for six hours, according to her account.
She said she was treated with hostility and was not given an explanation of what was happening or when she might be able to leave:
One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn’t. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal.
Two other officials asked about my work in Sierra Leone. One of them was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They scribbled notes in the margins of their form, a form that appeared to be inadequate for the many details they are collecting.
I was tired, hungry and confused, but I tried to remain calm. My temperature was taken using a forehead scanner and it read a temperature of 98. I was feeling physically healthy but emotionally exhausted.
Three hours passed. No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.
I called my family to let them know that I was OK. I was hungry and thirsty and asked for something to eat and drink. I was given a granola bar and some water. I wondered what I had done wrong.
After a subsequent forehead scan registered her temperature at 101 (a result, she wrote, of being flushed and “upset at being held with no explanation”), Hickox was put into quarantine at Newark University Hospital. Though Hickox tested negative for Ebola, she is still going to be held under a 21-day quarantine.
Public health experts have said that mandatory quarantines for people who may have been exposed to Ebola are not medically necessary, since a person does not become contagious until they exhibit symptoms of the disease.
UPDATE [ 11:15 p.m. ET]: Doctors Without Borders has issued a press release expressing concern over Hickox’s treatment, saying the organization is “very concerned about the conditions and uncertainty she is facing and is attempting to obtain information from hospital officials.” The statement continues:
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.
The full press release can be read here.