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A nurse who tested negative for Ebola said officials at Newark Airport in New Jersey appeared confused and disorganized, and provided her only a granola bar for food while she was detained for more than six hours after she arriving from Sierra Leone.
In a first-person account in the Dallas Morning News, Kaci Hickox criticized the treatment she received yesterday after returning from a month-long assignment with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, one of three African countries at the center of the current outbreak.
“No one seemed to be in charge,” Hickox wrote in the account. “No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.”
Hickox said she was detained at the airport upon her arrival at 1 p.m. At the time, her temperature was recorded at 98 degrees. Three hours later, after a confusing series of interactions with officials, her temperature was recorded at 101 degrees using a forehead scanner.
Hickox said she told officials that her skin temperature could have been elevated because her face was flushed with anxiety and asked them to test again using a more accurate oral thermometer. She was left alone for another three hours without her temperature being taken again before being transported with a police escort to a hospital.
At the hospital, after being placed in an isolation tent, an oral thermometer recorded her temperature at a normal 98.6 degrees. Her blood was tested for Ebola, and came back negative.
All the same, Hickox remains in quarantine for 21 days under rules imposed this week by New York and New Jersey officials seeking to quell public fear of a broader contagion in the U.S.
“I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa,” Hickox wrote. “I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.”
Illinois, New York and New Jersey have decided to quarantine anyone arriving at their airports who has had direct contact with Ebola patients. Only four people have tested positive for the Ebola virus in the U.S.; two contracted the disease in Africa, the other two were health care workers treating a patient in Texas.
The new policies in New Jersey, New York and Illinois go beyond guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under the changes, quarantines for high-risk travelers from any of three West African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak would last 21 days. Others who travel from the region and haven’t had direct patient contact will be actively monitored and quarantined only if necessary.
Health-care professionals have said that mandatory quarantines could deter caregivers from volunteering to fight the outbreak at its source in West Africa.
Hickox said with more health care workers needed to fight Ebola, “the U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.”
The CDC in Atlanta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Phone calls were not answered at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which administers Newark Airport.
To contact the reporter on this story: Cheyenne Hopkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Maura Reynolds at email@example.com.