Ebola quarantines: Can states do that?

by
October 31, 2014

The quarantine of a nurse in Maine who recently returned from the Ebola hot zone in West Africa has touched off a battle between the authority of states to confine people to protect public health and the right of Americans to move about freely.

Kaci Hickox, who returned to the U.S. last week after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, is defying Maine’s efforts to quarantine her at home until the 21-day incubation period for developing the deadly disease has passed. Some questions and answers about Hickox and the legal underpinnings in this tug-of-war between public health and civil liberties.

Q: Why all the attention to Hickox, when so many U.S. medical workers have been helping out in West Africa?

A: Timing. The 33-year-old nurse was the first U.S. medical worker returning from West Africa to get caught up after several states went beyond federal Ebola guidelines and established quarantine rules covering all those who have had contact with Ebola victims in Africa. When Hickox’s flight arrived in New Jersey, the state put her in mandatory quarantine in a tent, then released her after three days to complete her journey home to Maine by private car. In Maine, state officials said she should stay in quarantine at home for the rest of the 21-day incubation period.

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