- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2014

Maine Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday he is ready to flex his legal powers to rein in a 33-year-old nurse who worked with Ebola patients, after she practically dared the state to seek a court order to quarantine her by enjoying a morning bike ride and refusing a deal that would bar her from public spaces.

The standoff between the Republican governor and Kaci Hickox is shaping up as a test case in the national struggle to balance public health and fear of the deadly Ebola virus against the personal liberties of volunteers returning from the outbreak’s epicenter in West Africa.

Mr. LePage, who is up for re-election on Tuesday, said state attorneys tried to work with the nurse, but negotiations failed.

“As a result of the failed effort to reach an agreement, the governor will exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law,” Mr. LePage’s office said in a midafternoon statement. “Maine statutes provide robust authority to the state to use legal measures to address threats to public health.”

The Republican governor remains “ready and willing” to “reasonably address the needs of health care workers meeting guidelines to assure the public health is protected,” officials added, but they did not specify what Mr. LePage plans to do.

Ms. Hickox insists she doesn’t pose a threat, as she has no symptoms of Ebola since returning from Sierra Leone and is not considered contagious. She refuses to be cooped up in her house, and has left her home twice in the past 24 hours while police could only watch.

The drama is playing out in a remote corner of the state near the Canadian border, roughly 600 miles from the buzz of New York City, where the positive Ebola test of Dr. Craig Spencer, also recently returned from West Africa, sparked a wave of public concern about the unchecked movement of Ebola workers.

Fears in the Big Apple set off a domino effect of state-mandated quarantine rules, starting with New York and New Jersey before extending to several other states. The virus has killed nearly 5,000 people in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and governors said they would not take any chances with public health.

In West Africa, Liberia is making some progress in containing the Ebola outbreak while the crisis in Sierra Leone is going to get worse, the top anti-Ebola officials in the two countries said, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, just returned from a visit to the region, told reporters in Belgium that the efforts by the United States and other countries to combat the spread of the deadly virus have begun to bear fruit but that “we each have to dig deeper.”

Ms. Hickox fell under New Jersey’s new quarantine mandate when she returned to the U.S. through Newark Liberty International Airport and registered a fever.

She insisted the reading was faulty and that she should not have spent the weekend in a Newark hospital tent. From her confinement she traded public barbs with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who let her return to Maine on Monday after she had been symptom-free for 24 hours.

Mr. LePage’s office said it outlined new terms in line with the “some risk” category outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week.

The guidelines would let a returning health care worker leave home to ride a bike or go for a walk, “but would prevent such a person from going into public places or coming within three feet of other people in non-congregate gatherings,” according to the governor’s office.

“Unfortunately, an agreement was not reached,” Mr. LePage’s office said. “The governor remains willing to enter into such an agreement, on a case-by-case basis, with traveling health care workers who meet this definition.”

President Obama traveled to Maine Thursday to campaign for Democrats but had no plans to meet with Ms. Hickox or wade into the fight.

“Ultimately, it’s states and local officials who have the authority for implementing these policies,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Mr. Obama has indirectly rebuked state leaders for pushing quarantine rules that go beyond the science of Ebola contagion.

But governors are not backing down — particularly Mr. Christie, who said this week the nation does not need “seven-minute lectures” from the White House and that returning workers who were exposed to the virus must quarantine for 21 days.

“That’s what we’re doing and we’re not changing,” he told reporters. “I don’t care what happens.”

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