“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,” Ms. Hickox wrote in an essay on the website of The Dallas Morning News, in collaboration with a friend who works for the paper. “I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear, and most frightening, quarantine.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Ms. Hickox’s lawyers, Norman Siegel and Steven Hyman, filed a civil rights lawsuit on her behalf in Federal District Court in Newark. Gov. Chris Christie and the former state health commissioner, Mary E. O’Dowd, were named in the suit. Ms. Hickox initially sought at least $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Mr. Siegel said it became clear during negotiations that if Ms. Hickox allowed the state to escape financial liability, she could do something more important: bring about systemic change. Under the settlement, anyone quarantined in New Jersey can contest the order and has the rights to have legal counsel, to be given prior notice of any hearings and to send and receive communications. It also guarantees a person the right to privacy so long as it does not interfere with vital public health needs.
Ms. Hickox plans to work to establish similar guidelines in other states. “The settlement upholds the principles and values of liberty and due process,” she said.
The agreement is also an implicit repudiation of the way her case was handled.
At the time, Mr. Christie said it had been handled properly, even after Ms. Hickox was released. “I didn’t reverse any decision,” the governor, a presidential candidate at the time, said. “She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours. And she tested negative for Ebola. So there was no reason to keep her. The reason she was put into the hospital in the first place was because she was running a high fever and was symptomatic.”
After Ms. Hickox landed in Newark, a forehead scan recorded her temperature as 101, prompting concern because fever is a symptom of the virus. She said the reading was high because she was flushed and upset. A later reading with an oral thermometer recorded a normal temperature, 98.6.
The settlement says that a forehead thermometer can be inaccurate and that in future cases an oral temperature reading is preferable.
Mr. Siegel said the case “creates a new ‘Bill of Rights’ for individuals subject to possible quarantine or isolation in New Jersey and sets a model for other states.”
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