CBSN

Nurse quarantined in N.J. criticizes the way she has been treated

NEWARK, N.J. - The health care worker who was quarantined at a New Jersey hospital because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa is sharply criticizing the way her case has been handled.

Kaci Hickox, the first traveler quarantined under Ebola watches in New Jersey and New York, gave a first-person account to the Dallas Morning News, which was posted on the paper's website Saturday.

kacihickox.jpg
Kaci Hickox.
University of Texas at Arlington

Hickox said she was stopped at Newark Liberty International and was questioned over several hours after touching down Friday. She said none of those who questioned her would explain what was going on or what would happen to her.

"One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn't. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal," she wrote.

Hickox is a nurse who had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. Officials said she was taken to a hospital after developing a fever, but Hickox said she was merely flushed because she was upset by the process.

Hickox tested negative for Ebola in a preliminary evaluation. Hospital officials would not say whether she would remain in the hospital for the entire 21-day, state-ordered quarantine period or be moved to another location.

The Ebola watch mandates 21 days of quarantine of medical workers and other airline passengers who have had contact with Ebola victims.

"This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me," Hickox said of her quarantine. "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. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine. ... The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, campaigning Saturday in Iowa for a fellow Republican, said he sympathizes for Hickox but he has to do what he can to ensure public health safety.

The mandatory 21-day quarantine came one day after New York City Dr. Craig Spencer tested positive for Ebola. Spencer had been treating Ebola patients in West Africa and self-quarantined Thursday after experiencing a low-grade fever.

On Saturday, doctors at Bellevue and city officials released an update on Spencer's condition, saying he is "awake and communicating" and "entering the next phase of his illness, as anticipated with the appearance of gastrointestinal symptoms."

Spencer is receiving antiviral medication and plasma, according to a statement issued by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

His fiancée, Morgan Dixon, who had been placed in isolation at the hospital, was allowed to return home, though she is still under quarantine.

Health officials say they've been to every known place Spencer visited in the days before his diagnosis was confirmed. Hazmat crews have cleaned his apartment, as well as a bowling alley and eateries he visited.

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook asked New York City's Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett if Spencer should have just been quarantined for 21 days from the moment he returned from West Africa.

"He did not have symptoms at that time. He had not yet had a fever and when he had a fever, he absolutely immediately notified the public health authority. And his temperature was not that high. He didn't say, let me wait and see if it goes up. He measured his temp of 100.3 and picked up the phone," she said.

Meanwhile, Illinois has joined New Jersey and New York in issuing a mandatory quarantine for travelers who have had contact with Ebola-infected patients in West Africa.

Officials in all three states say any person traveling from the three hard-hit West African nations who had contact with infected or possibly infected people will be quarantined for 21 days. That includes doctors.

Doctors Without Borders criticized the new measure, saying there was a "notable lack of clarity about the new guidelines announced yesterday by state authorities in New York and New Jersey, 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 group said it was " very concerned about the conditions and uncertainty" Hickox is facing, saying that "while she is being provided with food and water, the tent is not heated and she is dressed in uncomfortable paper scrubs. She was permitted to bring personal belongings into the tent."