Creatas/Thinkstock(NEWARK, N.J.) — Airport officials are poorly handling health care workers returning from Africa, says a nurse who was placed in quarantine at a New Jersey airport and tested negative for Ebola on Saturday.
Kaci Hickox, the nurse who landed at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport on Friday, described the scene at the airport as “a frenzy of disorganization, fear,” in an essay she wrote for Dallas Morning News.
“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.
After she told an immigration official that she was returning from Sierra Leone, she was escorted to a quarantine office where she was interrogated by a number of officials, including one from the CDC, she wrote.
Hickox said her interrogators treated her like a criminal.
“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.
Although Hickox showed no signs of Ebola symptoms, she was detained for several hours.
“Four hours after I landed at the airport, an official approached me with a forehead scanner,” she wrote. “My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101.”
Hickox, who has degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and Johns Hopkins University, tried to explain that an oral thermometer would have been more accurate and that the scanner was recording a fever because she was upset and her face was flushed.
When it was decided that Hickox had to go to a hospital, she was transported by eight police cars.
“Sirens blared, lights flashed,” Hickox wrote. “Again, I wondered what I had done wrong.”
It wasn’t until she had her temperature and other vitals properly taken with an oral thermometer that officials realized she didn’t have Ebola.
“My blood was taken and tested for Ebola. It came back negative,” Hickox wrote.
Health officials confirmed that a nurse had been quarantined at Newark Liberty International Airport despite not having any symptoms, developing a fever only hours into the quarantine. A preliminary test for Ebola came back negative for the nurse, the state’s Health Department said in a statement Saturday.
Hickox will remain in mandatory quarantine for 21 days.
On Friday, governors in New York and New Jersey announced that they would enforce mandatory quarantines for all travelers who had contact with Ebola-infected people and were arriving from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Illinois Department of Public Health also announced a mandatory 21-day home quarantine for high-risk individuals who cared for Ebola patients in the same countries.
The announcements came a day after Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, who treated Ebola patients in Guinea, tested positive for the virus. He is isolated at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also tightened guidelines on Thursday to require 21-day self-monitoring — but not quarantines — for travelers to Ebola-affected regions.
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