(Update: On Monday morning, New Jersey officials said nurse Kaci Hickox has been symptom-free for 24 hours, so they will allow her to return to her home in Maine -- by "private carrier," the Associated Press reported.)
(CNSNews.com) - A nurse returning from West Africa is the first American forced into involuntary quarantine under a new policy imposed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
She's furious about it and has even hired a lawyer to challenge the quarantine order, but Christie says he "absolutely has no second thoughts about it."
"It was my conclusion we need to do this to protect the public health of people of New Jersey," Christie told "Fox News Sunday."
"I don't believe when you're dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system. This is government's job. If anything else, the government job is to protect safety and health of our citizens. And so, we've taken this action, and I absolutely have no second thoughts about it."
Three other governors -- in New York, Florida, and Illinois -- also have ordered mandatory 21-day monitoring of returning health care workers. "And I think the CDC eventually will come around to our point of view on this," Christie said.
Christie said a voluntary system doesn't always work, as evidenced by NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who was supposed to self-quarantine after returning from Liberia, but was seen picking up takeout food in Princeton. And Dr. Craig Spencer went bowling and rode the subway all over New York City before checking himself into a hospital on Friday.
Christie said he's not worried that a mandatory quarantine will discourage health care workers from traveling to West Africa, as critics have warned.
"I believe that folks who want to take that step and are willing to volunteer also understand that it's in their interest and the public health interest to have a 21-day period thereafter if they've been directed expose to people with the virus," he said.
"And as we saw with what happened with some of the health care workers in Texas, with the CDC shifting protocols, we have people who are infected from that type of (medical) contact. And we just can't have that in the New York and New Jersey area."
'Extreme case that is really unacceptable'
Kaci Hickox, the nurse placed in 21-day quarantine in a New Jersey hospital after returning from a month treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, told CNN on Sunday that she is "completely healthy and with no symptoms."
She said if Gov. Christie "knew anything about Ebola, he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious."
She called her forced isolation "an extreme case that is really unacceptable," adding, "I feel like my basic human rights have been violated."
"You know, all I want is to go home to my partner, who is completely happy to have me home, and is not scared at all, because he knows that I know more about Ebola than most people in the U.S.
"And if I were the unlucky person, like Dr. Spencer, to develop symptoms after returning home, I would be smart and do the right thing and contact the local health department, and be safe in going to a facility and being isolated and tested. But this is just an extreme that we have to fight against."
Hickox also complained about her experience at Newark airport -- one of five airports designated by the Obama administration to receive passengers from West Africa.
"First, there were many people that asked me questions. No one seems to be leading or coordinating the effort. A lot of the questions were repetitive. And as an epidemiologist, I was surprised that, you know, I saw people writing in the margins of their paperwork, which just showed that obviously they weren't prepared to really capture all the information they thought they needed." She said she was kept at the airport "for five or six hours."
Hickox said she feels "physically completely strong and emotionally completely exhausted." She said her quarantine order was written by the New Jersey health commissioner, but "no one has told me how long it would last."
"No one has communicated with me. You have, you know, put me in an isolation unit without communicating medically or public health, you know, scientifically logical chain of events that need to happen next. And this to me is just completely unacceptable."
Hickox says she's being held in a tent inside a building. She has a hospital bed, a "kind of a port-a-potty" bathroom, no shower, and "no connection with the outside world except my iphone, which I insisted that I brought with me when I arrived late Friday night."
"You know, I think we have to be very careful about letting politicians make medical and public health decisions, and all of the evidence about Ebola shows that if you are not symptomatic, you are not infectious. So, for instance, when I arrived, I was not symptomatic, and that Friday they tested my blood, and I am negative. So if I don't have symptoms and I tested negative with Ebola, there's no way I can be -- for anyone to tell me that I need to -- and under a quarantine -- it's just completely unacceptable."