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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Threat of Lawsuit Could Test Maine’s Quarantine Policy

A nurse who cared for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone was headed for a legal showdown with the State of Maine on Wednesday over whether the state can quarantine her against her will.

The dispute is heightening a national debate over how to balance public health and public fears against the rights and freedoms of health care workers, and troops, returning from West Africa.

“This is a tipping point in this whole process,” the nurse, Kaci Hickox, said in an interview, one of several she did from her home in northern Maine on Wednesday, as state troopers and television trucks stood outside.

“So many states have started enacting these policies that I think are just completely not evidence-based. They don’t do a good job of balancing the risks and benefits when thinking about taking away an individual’s rights.”

But Maine’s health commissioner, Mary Mayhew, said at a news conference late Wednesday that the state was seeking an immediate court order enforcing a 21-day quarantine of Ms. Hickox after she declared that she would leave her home if state officials did not lift the restrictions by Thursday morning.

“While we certainly respect the rights of one individual, we must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers, as well as anyone who visits our great state,” Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said in a statement issued earlier in the day. In Maine and elsewhere, the fight over Ebola was poised to be one of the final defining...

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