Doing the right thing

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who created a media maelstrom when she was detained on returning to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Africa, completed her mandatory 21-day waiting period on Tuesday.

Hickox became the subject of innumerable media reports when New Jersey confined her to an isolation tent. Later, when she left, after pointing out that officials had no legal authority to detain her, she returned to her residence in Fort Kent.

Once an obviously aggrieved Hickox arrived in Maine, Governor Paul LePage inherited the “hot potato.”

Bullied by governors trying to avoid a worst-case scenario, assaulted in hateful and ignorant social media attacks, and the focus of much unfounded public paranoia in the St. John Valley, Hickox refused to back down. While some vilified her, others rallied to her support, agreeing with her assertions that due process and legal authority must be part of any attempt to put restrictions on any citizen’s freedom of movement.

While trying to establish her rights, she finally made it clear she had no intention of fanning further fears by strolling all over town, then remained close to home until the 21-day incubation period for Ebola expired.

The real hero of this story, however, is Maine District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere. In his wise and carefully worded decision, he rightly praised Hickox for her compassionate service treating Ebola patients in Africa. He ruled that she needed to continue to comply with a direct monitoring program, which she had already agreed to, but stopped short of letting officials take away her right to step outside her home, especially in light of the fact that she posed virtually no risk to anyone else.

At the same time, he urged her to try and see things from the other side as well. “Respondent’s actions at this point, as a health care professional, need to demonstrate her full understanding of human nature and the real fear that exists,” he wrote.

In the wake of the events that unfolded in Fort Kent, some other Mainers were heard to boast that the disgraceful way Hickox and her boyfriend were treated by some in that community would never have happened where they live. But the St. John Valley has no monopoly on those who succumb to fear and superstition. As was demonstrated by the comportment of the town’s police chief and scores of others in Fort Kent, there are plenty of good people throughout Maine.

It may be easy to say that such a reaction would not happen in places like Mount Desert Island. But that just might be wishful thinking. When it comes to how best to handle such situations, every community in Maine can learn from what transpired this fall in Fort Kent.

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