Kaci Hickox, the health care worker who was placed under mandatory quarantine in Newark last year over unfounded fears that she had contracted Ebola, is suing NJ Gov. Chris Christie and state health officials for holding her against her will.
"I never had Ebola. I never had symptoms of Ebola. I tested negative for Ebola the first night I stayed in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's private prison," Hickox said in a statement. "My liberty, my interests and consequently my civil rights were ignored because some ambitious governors saw an opportunity to use an age-old political tactic: fear." Hickox is seeking at least $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Hickox, 34, had been caring for Ebola patients in the fall of 2014 while on assignment with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. When she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on her way back home to Maine, she became the first person to be placed under mandatory quarantine under a strict new policy spearheaded by Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo that arose
Despite having no symptoms and testing negative for Ebola, Hickox was held in isolation for more than three days. She described the experience in detail at the time, lambasting Christie in particular: "This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated," Hickox said during one interview. "To put me through this emotional and physical stress is completely unacceptable"
During a Skype call with reporters, Hickox made clear that Christie and his team of advisors were to blame for what she experienced, not the hospital workers who were looking after her in isolation: "It was always clear that the workers in the hospital treated me very well. They were wonderful and compassionate and kind," she said. "It was always clear that some of those decisions weren't being made by them. They clearly didn't have the power to make them...It was clear to me that obviously politicians and specifically Governor Christie [were] really reacting out of fear, and when you choose to detain someone out of fear, then that's discrimination."
"The decision to quarantine anyone must be made based on science, not fear and politics," said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "In holding Kaci Hickox, the governor and the former head of the Department of Health not only violated her basic constitutional rights, but they did so without any scientific foundation. Now, a year later, we are proud to help Kaci vindicate those rights."
In the wake of a lot of media scrutiny over Hickox's treatment, the White House put pressure on Cuomo and Christie to reverse the mandatory quarantine orders only two days later. Hickox was finally allowed to return home in November 2014, although not without her lawyer, Norman Siegel, getting blowback from Ebola-panicking members of his gym.