Public Health vs. Civil Liberties: Debate over Ebola Quarantines Harkens Back to AIDS Panic in 1980s

October 31, 2014

Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was quarantined in New Jersey after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, openly defied the state of Maine by leaving her home and taking a bike ride with her boyfriend on Thursday. Maine Gov. Paul LePage vowed to use “the full extent of his authority allowable by law” to keep her in her home. Juan González talks about his most recent column in the New York Daily News and his interview with Norman Siegel, an attorney for Hickox.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, before we move on to our first segment, you wrote an interesting piece in the New York Daily News, "Quarantined Nurse Kaci Hickox Is Bravely Fighting Policy Not Based in Science."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, well, I interviewed yesterday Norm Siegel, the attorney for Kaci Hickox, one of the two attorneys, and he told me the story, basically, how she suddenly contacted him on Saturday afternoon, when she was in that—in isolation, a forced isolation in Newark hospital, after reading a comment that he had made on a post on the New York Times website. And first her boyfriend called her, then she called him and asked for his help in trying to get out of the forced isolation that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had put her in. And, you know, Norm Siegel is a longtime civil rights attorney here in New York City, and he remembers precisely the same kind of panic that occurred back in the mid-1980s when he took over the New York Civil Liberties Union, and then, it was over AIDS and over the demands of many Americans that AIDS patients be quarantined. So he’s very familiar with this kind of hysteria or panic. And he immediately offered to go out there to New Jersey and threatened the state of New Jersey with a lawsuit.

Of course, Chris Christie then backed down, released Kaci Hickox so she could go home to Maine, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, then backed off a little bit on his own quarantine, saying that people—returning health workers from West Africa could be quarantined at home. But the reality is that these two governors are still insisting that even though you may not have symptoms, you can be quarantined under their powers in New York state and New Jersey. And now, of course, the governor in Maine, the tea party candidate who’s facing a tough re-election on Tuesday, has also insisted that she be quarantined. And she is continuing to defy the quarantine, and basically welcoming a lawsuit, which Siegel feels she’s got a very good chance, if there is a lawsuit filed to get her to maintain a stay in quarantine, that he believes he can win.

AMY GOODMAN: And if anyone thinks politics has nothing to do with it, Kaci Hickox went back to Maine, and Chris Christie also went to Maine that same day to campaign for LePage.


AMY GOODMAN: But there are many health workers who have just gone home in the United States.


AMY GOODMAN: And she has tested negative for Ebola.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, not only that, but Governor Cuomo admitted in an interview with the Daily News editorial board this week that as many as 30 to 50 people are entering JFK—health workers from West Africa—every day, but the governor refuses to say how many of those he has also insisted be put on home quarantine. So it’s basically politicians who know nothing about health, public health, interfering in what the CDC, Doctors Without Borders and even The New England Journal of Medicine has said should be the proper policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Kaci Hickox for a moment, just wrapping this segment, when she made headlines Thursday as she took a bike ride with her boyfriend in Maine. Several journalists attempted to interview her while she rode.

REPORTER 1: It’s pretty bold of you to go out on a bike ride while the state police are here.

REPORTER 2: Kaci, what’s—

KACI HICKOX: There is no legal action against me, so I’m free to go on a bike ride in my hometown.

REPORTER 2: What is the status of the court order, Kaci?

KACI HICKOX: I don’t know. When you find out, you tell me.

REPORTER 1: How did it feel to be out on the road?

KACI HICKOX: It feels amazing.

REPORTER 1: Do you plan to go out again later today? Are you staying in this house?

KACI HICKOX: We’ll see.

REPORTER 2: Did you talk about taking this step last night? Did you guys consider it?

KACI HICKOX: No, I didn’t. You know, this morning, Ted and I just said we want to go for a bike ride. So, here we are.

REPORTER 2: You woke up, and you wanted to ride. Is this something that you guys do often?

KACI HICKOX: We do, yeah. Thank you, guys. I have to go speak with the health department now.

AMY GOODMAN: These reporters were following as she rode the bike back. They say the troopers, the federal authorities, are also there. Not clear—well, they didn’t tackle her when she went out here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and the amazing thing is not only her bravery going into West Africa to treat Ebola patients, but now also standing up eloquently to the bullying of some of these politicians.

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