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Nurse Criticizes Quarantine After Negative Ebola Test, Hires Lawyer

Kaci Hickox, a nurse whose return to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone was sidetracked when she was placed in a mandatory 21-day quarantine Friday, is criticizing the way New Jersey officials have handled her case.

Hickox says she doesn't have a fever; a preliminary blood test came back negative for Ebola. She reportedly hired a civil rights attorney Sunday to work for her release.

The medical relief group she works for says there's no word on when she could be released. And in the volunteer community, many are concerned that the quarantine policy could make medical staff think twice about volunteering to help combat the deadly outbreak overseas.

"Hospital personnel are keeping her in isolation and have not informed her of any next steps," Doctors Without Borders says, noting that the nurse hasn't been told whether her blood will undergo more tests to confirm her Ebola status with certainty.

Update at 4 p.m. ET: Hickox Remains In Isolation

"The patient remains isolated and under observation in a climate-controlled, indoor, extended care area in a building adjacent to the hospital," Newark's University Hospital says in an update on Hickox issued Sunday afternoon.

Saying that officials from the federal and state government continue to evaluate her condition, the hospital said a CDC team has visited the site.

"The patient has computer access, use of her cell phone, reading material (magazines, newspaper) and requested and has received take-out food and drink," hospital communications director Stacie Newton said.

Update at 2:35 p.m. ET: Nurse Hires Civil Rights Attorney

In a move that could open a new legal front in the debate over how the fight against Ebola is managed — and how people who have potentially been exposed to the disease are treated — Kaci Hickox has reportedly hired Norman Siegel, an attorney who specializes in civil and human rights cases involving the government. That news comes from J. David Goodman of The New York Times, who tweeted quotes from a conversation with Siegel Sunday afternoon.

"I asked her if she wanted this to be a test case," Siegel tells Goodman, "and she said yes."

He added that he'll challenge the New Jersey policy on the grounds that it is too broad.

Our original post continues:

"There is a notable lack of clarity about the new guidelines announced... by state authorities in New York and New Jersey," Doctors Without Borders executive director Sophie Delaunay says. "We are attempting to clarify the details of the protocols with each state's departments of health to gain a full understanding of their requirements and implications."

The aid group also says that it followed federal guidelines by informing officials that Hickox was flying into the U.S. from her West Africa assignment Friday.

Hickox, 33, a Texas native who now lives in Maine, detailed the treatment she received after flying to New Jersey's Newark airport in an article published in the Dallas Morning News, in which she said of her colleagues who have volunteered to fight Ebola in West Africa, "I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine."

The nurse has spent the weekend in an isolation tent outside Newark's University Hospital. Doctors Without Borders says, "the tent is not heated and she is dressed in uncomfortable paper scrubs. She was permitted to bring personal belongings into the tent."

Hickox's boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, tells the Morning News that she had intended to isolate herself in their home in Fort Kent, Maine.

"All she wanted to do was come home and go to bed because she hasn't been able to sleep in days and days and days," Wilbur tells the newspaper.

Describing Hickox's nursing career, the Morning News says that she has worked with Doctors Without Borders in several countries since 2007, and that until recently, she worked for the CDC.

The more stringent quarantine rule for people who've come into contact with Ebola patients was put in place shortly before Hickox arrived in Newark Friday. It was announced by Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey; a similar plan is also in place in Illinois. The new protocols require a mandatory 21-day quarantine — a step beyond the 21-day monitoring that the CDC announced earlier in the week.

Those governors and other officials have criticized the CDC, saying the agency has provided unclear guidelines for how to handle the potential threat of Ebola.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.