NEW YORK (CNN) — A nurse under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey after caring for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has blasted stringent new state policies for dealing with health care workers returning from West Africa, saying the change could lead to medical professionals being treated like “criminals and prisoners.”
In a first-person account in The Dallas Morning News, Kaci Hickox wrote that she was ordered placed in quarantine at a hospital, where she has now tested negative in two tests for Ebola. Still, hospital officials told her she must remain under quarantine for 21 days.
“This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me,” she wrote.
Dr. Seema Yasmin, a friend of Hickox who has been in contact with her during her quarantine, told CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen that Hickox is feeling physically fine and showing no symptoms.
That contradicts what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a press conference Saturday, when he said Hickox was “obviously ill.”
Yasmin has been texting with Hickox and told CNN the nurse is “very sad” and “exhuasted.” Yasmin also told CNN she is worried about the conditions Hickox is being held in — the nurse told Yasmin she is in an unheated room and was given only paper scrubs to wear.
Doctors Without Borders said in a written statement that it is “very concerned about the conditions,” saying Hickox is in an unheated tent adjacent to the hospital. The group’s statement also said it is working to get information from hospital officials.
In Saturday’s press conference, Christie said he was “sorry if in any way she (Hickox) was inconvenienced,” but stated that the public health and safety of the people of New Jersey are his “first and foremost obligation.”
A mandatory quarantine imposed by New York, New Jersey and Illinois on health care workers who just returned to the United States from treating Ebola patients in West Africa has prompted a debate on how to prevent the spread of the disease without discouraging medical aid workers from fighting it.
The isolation policy was abruptly implemented Friday by the governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo and Christie. The announcement came one day after a New York doctor who treated patients in Guinea became the first Ebola case diagnosed in New York City.
The change to mandatory isolation for 21 days, which is thought to be Ebola’s incubation period, was implemented the same day that Hickox landed at Newark Liberty International Airport after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone.
She said that she was held at the airport and questioned by various health workers after her flight landed at about 1 p.m.
At first, her temperature — taken with a forehead scanner — was 98 degrees.
Hours later, with her cheeks flushed with anger over being held without explanation, another scanner check recorded her temperature as 101 degrees, she wrote.
“The female officer looked smug. ‘You have a fever now,'” she wrote. “I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset.”
She eventually got a police escort to a hospital, where her temperature was measured again at 98.6 degrees — normal. And she tested negative for Ebola, she wrote in the Dallas newspaper.
“I had spent a month watching children die, alone,” she wrote. “I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing. … I sat alone in the isolation tent (in New Jersey) and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?”
Hickox fears it will discourage some colleagues from taking up the necessary fight.
New Jersey health officials said that a preliminary test showed that Hickox does not have Ebola. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a second Ebola test came back negative.
The primary goal of University Hospital in Newark, where Hickox is under quarantine, is to “make sure the patient is as comfortable as possible,” hospital spokeswoman Stacie Newton said.
The New Jersey Department of Health did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment regarding the nurse’s allegations.
CDC: Outbreak won’t end without volunteers
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett shares Hickox’s concerns that the mandatory quarantine will discourage doctors and nurses from volunteering to take care of Ebola patients in West Africa, according to her spokeswoman.
“We just want to make sure we don’t inadvertently discourage volunteers who are going to West Africa to help control this epidemic,” said health department spokeswoman Jean Weinberg.
The CDC has said the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will not end without the work of volunteer health care workers.
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