The Maine Medical Association and top infectious disease leaders in the state say the LePage administration overreached when it vowed to take Fort Kent nurse Kaci Hickox to court to impose an in-home quarantine.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention was urged to reverse course and follow science-based monitoring guidelines in a letter sent to the Press Herald on Thursday morning that cited support from a dozen top health officials.

Hickox, who cared for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has defied the state’s mandate that she stay home, going for a bike ride Thursday morning with her boyfriend. A blood sample she gave tested negative for Ebola and she is not showing any symptoms.

Two recent Maine epidemiologists – Dr. Stephen Sears, who resigned in May, and Dr. Kathleen Gensheimer, who was the Maine epidemiologist for nearly 30 years before leaving the post in 2009 – were among those opposing the state actions. Maine doesn’t currently have an epidemiologist, although the Maine CDC is interviewing candidates.

Mary Mayhew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, has said the state would seek a court order to impose the quarantine against Hickox, but state law says such an order can only be issued if a person poses an immediate public health threat.

Gov. Paul LePage seemed to indicate he was willing to compromise on the issue Thursday, telling ABC News that he would forgo the quarantine if Hickox had another blood test.


Dr. Lisa Ryan, president of the Maine Medical Association, told the Press Herald that the Maine CDC’s attempts this week to impose a full quarantine led her and Dr. Lani Graham, a former state health officer, to write the letter and to round up top medical experts to join them. They argue that the quarantine is unnecessary and could become a disincentive for people to volunteer in countries stricken with infectious diseases.

“What we have is a knee-jerk, panic reaction without looking at the science,” Ryan said.

John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that the state is showing an “abundance of caution” to protect Mainers.

“We cannot afford to be short-sighted or so narrowly focused that we fail to take into consideration all possible risks to Maine citizens,” Martins wrote.

But Graham said Hickox should be lauded for her humanitarian work, not subjected to isolation.

“We need health care workers who are willing to work with these patients,” Graham said. “It takes a lot of courage, and if they know they’re going to be unnecessarily quarantined when they get back here, that’s discouraging.”

Hickox is not putting others at risk by being out in society, Ryan said. The Ebola virus is transmitted only through contact with bodily fluids. People who are infected do not become contagious until they develop symptoms, which include fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

“Until that happens,” Ryan said, “there is no risk.”

The letter says: “Ultimately, we need to be guided by science and not emotion. An epidemic of fear can be as dangerous as an epidemic with a virus.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: