A health care worker quarantined at a New Jersey hospital because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa is sharply criticizing the way she's been treated.
In a first-person account in the Dallas Morning News, Kaci Hickox wrote Saturday that she encountered fear and disorganization when she arrived Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport. 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.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, campaigning Saturday in Iowa for a fellow Republican, said he sympathizes with Hickox but has to do what he can to ensure public health safety.
"My heart goes out to her," said Christie, who noted that state and local health officials would make sure quarantine rules are enforced. He said the New Jersey State Police will not be involved.
Other government officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New Jersey Department of Health and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Hickox is a nurse who had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. Officials have said she was taken to a hospital after developing a fever, but Hickox wrote that she was merely flushed because she was upset.
Hickox tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation. Hospital officials won't say whether she will remain quarantined in the hospital for the entire 21 days.
In a statement, Doctors Without Borders said the organization is "very concerned about the conditions and uncertainty (Hickox) is facing and is attempting to obtain information from hospital officials."
"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 organization said.
Sophie Delaunay, executive director of the organization, said: "There is a notable lack of clarity about the new guidelines announced yesterday by state authorities in New York and New Jersey."
The organization said that Hickox was being kept in an unheated tent and is not being given information about how long she must remain in isolation and whether she will be given more definitive blood tests.
Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, also raised concerns about the quarantine. He said Christie must provide more information about how it was determined that mandatory quarantines were medically necessary.
Ofer said the government's response should not be driven by fear, noting that "forcibly detaining people" can frighten the public and may deter genuinely sick people who fear quarantine from seeking treatments. He also said it could discourage caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients.
"Coercive measures like mandatory quarantine of people exhibiting no symptoms of Ebola and when not medically necessary raise serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers," Ofer said.