A nurse who spent the last several days in a New Jersey hospital isolation room after returning from an Ebola assignment in West Africa has been released, officials said.
Kaci Hickox, who was quarantined after arriving Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport under a new mandate issued earlier that day by Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, has been "symptom-free" and is being transported to Maine, per her request, the Health Department said.
Hickox left University Hospital in Newark shortly after 1 p.m. Monday in a private vehicle. Maine Gov. Paul LePage said his state's protocols require Hickox to be quarantined in her home for 21 days after her last possible exposure to the virus. He said he understands her desire to go home, but says "we must be vigilant" in safeguarding public health.
Hickox was monitored since being admitted to University Hospital Friday after getting off a plane following a Doctors Without Borders stint treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She was initially asymptomatic, the Health Department said, but later developed a fever.
Hickox has said she was not feverish but merely became flushed because she was upset about how she was being treated -- like a criminal, she said. A preliminary negative test for Ebola was confirmed at CDC headquarters.
Earlier, lawyers for Hickox said they'd sue for her release, and that they planned to file a constitutional challenge to state restrictions for health care workers returning to New York and New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa.
Civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel and attorney Steven Hyman said she was being kept in a tented area on the hospital's first floor with a bed, folding chairs and little else; they said she was able to get a laptop computer with wi-fi access only Sunday.
New Jersey's Health Department said "every effort was made to insure that she remained comfortable" while in isolation. The agency said Hickox received a cellphone and reading material along with the laptop, along with "nourishment of choice."
In a first-person account in the Dallas Morning News, Hickox wrote that she encountered fear and disorganization.
She was stopped and questioned over several hours and was left without food for an extended period, she wrote. No one would explain what was going on or what would happen to her, she said in the piece, which was written with the help of a Dallas Morning News staff writer.
"This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me. ... The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity," wrote Hickox. The Ebola quarantines established by governors in New Jersey and New York mandate 21 days of quarantine of medical workers who have had contact with Ebola victims. Illinois has imposed a similar policy.
On Sunday, Hickox told CNN by telephone that she felt her "basic human rights have been violated," and she called her isolation "inhumane." She also questioned why politicians are making decisions she said should be left up to health officials.
Christie defended the mandatory quarantine of returning aid workers.
"I don’t believe when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system," Christie told Fox News Sunday. "This is government’s job. If anything else, the government’s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens."
Christie added Monday that his priority is protecting the health of people in his state.
"I understand that she didn't want to be there, she made that very clear from the beginning," Christie said during a campaign event for Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Wellington, Florida. "But my obligation is to all the people of New Jersey and we're just going to continue to do that."
He's expected to appear on "The Today Show" on NBC Tuesday morning, at 7 a.m.
A senior official with the Obama administration told NBC News that administration officials have informed Christie and Cuomo they have concerns about the "unintended consequences (that) policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa."
Christie said that he has not had any contact with the White House about the quarantine policy; he has said he believes that health care workers with an interest in volunteering will understand that quarantines are necessary.
The medical necessity of the quarantines has been called into question.
Doctors Without Borders issued a statement saying protective public health measures, while of "paramount importance," "must be balanced against the rights of health workers returning from fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa."
The statement called for "fair and reasonable treatment and the full disclosure of information to them, along with information about intended courses of action from local and state authorities."
Late Sunday, Cuomo clarified New York's protocols. He said they would be asked to remain in their homes for 21 days, not in a hospital, and health care workers would check on them twice a day for any symptoms. Cuomo said accommodations would be found for any health care worker who didn't have a place to stay. The state would pay patients' salaries for 21 days, if necessary.