fb-pixel
Nurse Kaci Hickox and Ted Wilbur spoke outside their Fort Kent, Maine, home.
Nurse Kaci Hickox and Ted Wilbur spoke outside their Fort Kent, Maine, home.Joel Page/Reuters

FORT KENT, Maine — A Maine judge gave nurse Kaci Hickox the OK to go wherever she pleases, handing state officials a defeat Friday in the nation’s biggest court case yet over how to balance personal liberty, public safety, and fear of Ebola.

Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere ruled that Hickox must continue daily monitoring of her health but said there is no need to isolate her or restrict her movements because she has no symptoms and is therefore not contagious.

The judge also decried the ‘‘misconceptions, misinformation, bad science, and bad information’’ circulating about the lethal disease in the United States.

Advertisement



After the ruling, a state police cruiser that had been posted outside Hickox’s home left, and she and her boyfriend stepped outside to thank the judge.

Hickox, 33, called it ‘‘a good day’’ and said her ‘‘thoughts, prayers, and gratitude’’ remain with those who are still battling Ebola in West Africa.

She said she had no immediate plans other than to watch a scary movie at home on Halloween in this town of 4,300 people on the remote northern edge of Maine, near the Canadian border.

Maine health officials had gone to court Thursday in an attempt to bar her from crowded public places and require her to stay at least 3 feet from others until the 21-day incubation period for Ebola was up Nov. 10. She would have been free to jog or go bike riding.

But the judge turned the state down.

Governor Paul LePage said he disagreed with the ruling but will abide by it. Officials said there are no plans to appeal. ‘‘As governor, I have done everything I can to protect the health and safety of Mainers. The judge has eased restrictions with this ruling, and I believe it is unfortunate,’’ LePage said.

Advertisement



Later in the day, the governor lashed out at Hickox, saying: ‘‘She has violated every promise she has made so far, so I can’t trust her. I don’t trust her. And I don’t trust that we know enough about this disease to be so callous.’’

Hickox was thrust into the center of a national debate after she returned to the United States last week from treating Ebola victims in West Africa as a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders.

She contended that the state’s confining her to her home in what it called a voluntary quarantine violated her rights and was unsupported by science. She defied the restrictions twice, once to go on a bike ride and once to talk to the media and shake a reporter’s hand.

In his ruling, the judge thanked Hickox for her service in Africa and acknowledged the gravity of restricting someone’s constitutional rights without solid science to back it up.

‘‘The court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science, and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola,’’ he wrote. ‘‘The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.’’

Hickox’s quarantine in Maine — and, before that, in New Jersey, upon her arrival back in the United States — led humanitarian groups, the White House, and many scientists to warn that automatically quarantining medical workers could discourage volunteers from going to West Africa, where more than 13,500 people have been sickened and nearly 5,000 have died from Ebola.

Advertisement



Hickox has been vilified by some and hailed by others. She has gotten a similarly mixed reaction from medical colleagues.

Meanwhile, New Jersey released a protocol to manage patients being screened for possible Ebola that includes providing financial assistance to anyone who loses income because of a state-ordered quarantine, and trying to find housing for people who live out of state and cannot be taken home.