New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie yielded to public pressure and White House criticism Monday, allowing a nurse who had treated Ebola patients in West Africa to emerge from quarantine in Newark and return to her home state of Maine.
Christie, who had established a sterling reputation for emergency response management with his response to Hurricane Sandy, has become a central target for criticism due to his quarantine policy, which medical professionals have called excessive.
With just over a week to go before Election Day, Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, has spent the last several days fending off criticism while attending campaign events in Nebraska, Iowa and Florida.
He is scheduled to continue campaigning on Monday, attending rallies for Republican candidates in Florida and Connecticut. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how Christie was managing the crisis while on the road.
Meanwhile, the nurse who was quarantined under the policy Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo instituted last Friday is mulling a lawsuit. Kaci Hickox, who traveled to West Africa to help treat patients afflicted with Ebola, was forcibly kept in a tent at a Newark hospital from Friday until Monday. She tested negative for the disease on Saturday.
Hickox will meet with civil rights lawyer Normal Siegel in the next two days to determine whether to pursue legal action over her involuntary quarantine, according to Saralee Evans, a law partner with Siegel, Teitelbaum & Evans, LLP. Christie, for his part, said last week that he would do whatever was “necessary to protect the public health of the people of New Jersey, and if someone wants to sue me over it, they can.”
A mandatory quarantine for individuals who had direct contact with Ebola in West Africa was announced by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last Friday. Hickox put this policy to the test, and was quarantined after officials at Newark Liberty International Airport believed she had a fever.
On Monday morning, the New Jersey Department of Health announced that she would be discharged and transported to Maine by a private carrier. Christie argued Monday that she had to be held in New Jersey to be tested.
“I’m hopeful that this morning, if all goes well, that we’ll be able to release her and send her back to Maine where she can continue to be quarantined in her home,” Christie said. “But the fact is I’m not going to step away for a minute from protecting the people of my state and our region… I know she didn’t want to be there. No one ever wants to be in the hospital, I suspect. And, so, I understand that. But, the fact is I have a much greater, bigger responsibility to the people of the public.”
Medical professionals, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, have criticized the mandatory quarantine, and called isolating health care workers returning from West Africa “draconian”.
“[Christie and Cuomo] are both really smart guys,” infectious disease expert Dr. Kent Sepkowitz wrote in The Daily Beast over the weekend. “Yet they have decided to ignore science and evidence and decades of careful observations made by those brave enough to have gone to Africa to assist in the control of epidemics.”
According to The New York Times, the White House has also gotten involved, with officials asking Christie and Cuomo to loosen their mandatory quarantine rules—although the New Jersey governor disputed that report.
“I’ve gotten absolutely no contact from the White House at all,” Christie said Sunday.
As the nurse prepares for an expected release and transit to Maine, Christie’s office is arguing that New Jersey’s policies have not been modified.
“New Jersey is not changing its quarantine protocol,” Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts told reporters in a statement. “The protocol is clear that a New Jersey resident with no symptoms, but who has come into contact with someone with Ebola, such as a health care provider, would be subject to a mandatory quarantine order and quarantined at home. Non-residents would be transported to their homes if feasible and, if not, quarantined in New Jersey.”
Because Hickox was symptomatic, Roberts told the Beast, she couldn’t initially be transported home.