Nurse Kaci Hickox and her boyfriend are leaving Maine next week for parts unknown.
Hickox made national headlines last week when she fought efforts to quarantine her in New Jersey and Maine because she had just returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa.
Her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, withdrew from an accelerated nursing program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent on Friday and said the couple will stay through Monday, after which a state court order expires and Hickox will no longer have to submit to daily health monitoring, inform state officials of travel plans and let them know if her health changes.
Wilbur said the couple will depart Fort Kent in the middle of next week, drop off some items in storage in southern Maine, and then leave the state.
“We’re going to try to get our lives back on track,” Wilbur said Friday night.
Hickox made international news Oct. 24, when she returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and was forced to go into quarantine in an isolation tent in New Jersey after her plane landed in the United States. New Jersey officials released her to allow her to go to Fort Kent, where Wilbur has lived while attending school.
Maine officials asked a state judge to impose a home quarantine on Hickox, but the judge refused and instead instituted the three restrictions on Hickox, who has not developed any symptoms of the deadly virus and has twice tested negative for Ebola.
The case pitting individual rights against public health concerns was closely watched because it was the nation’s first legal challenge to restrictions some states have imposed on people coming into the United States from the Ebola-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where Hickox volunteered with Doctors Without Borders.
Health officials say almost all those who get the virus develop symptoms within 21 days of their exposure to Ebola. For Hickox, Monday will mark the 21st day since her last possible exposure in Africa.
Wilbur said he withdrew from the nursing program because university officials – who told him there had been threats against him – refused to communicate to students that any harassment, threats or demonstrations against Wilbur would not be tolerated.
Wilbur said school officials pointed out that those acts were prohibited, and said they wouldn’t act ahead of Wilbur’s return to school to reinforce the prohibitions.
Wilbur was concerned about the threats and also about potential silent protests, such as students getting up and leaving a room when he entered.
He said he initially agreed to stay off campus at school officials’ request “under duress,” when he was driving to meet Hickox in southern Maine after she left New Jersey.
“I agreed to whatever,” he said. “They didn’t show any leadership or support to me and they had an opportunity, as a nursing school, to act like a medical community, and they didn’t.”
Wilbur was able to call in to listen to lectures while staying away from the campus, but they were hard to follow over the phone. The final straw came Friday when he met with school officials to discuss his return and they refused to agree to talk to students ahead of time about his return and warn about acts that would not be tolerated.
“They instead decided to pander to fear and hysteria,” Wilbur said.
Dan Demeritt, spokesman for the University of Maine System, said University of Maine at Fort Kent officials “did a great deal of work in the last two weeks to address community concerns” about Wilbur and Ebola. “Unfortunately, he feels we weren’t accommodating enough, but we worked hard to balance the students’ needs and the overall concerns of the campus and the community. We came a long way in a few weeks.”
Demeritt declined to address Wilbur’s specific complaints about school officials, citing student privacy laws, but said the school would take threats against or harassment of a student “very seriously.” “I regret that he has that concern and that characterization” of the school’s response, Demeritt said.
Wilbur said the controversy around Hickox has upended the couple’s plans.
“We’re still trying to get our feet under us,” he said of the turmoil that ensued when Hickox’s refusal to be quarantined brought national media attention to their doorstep. “We don’t have any plan or any idea of what we’re doing.”
Wilbur said Hickox needs to find a job, but her background, including experience in public health programs, means she should be able to find something quickly. He also said she plans to talk with medical groups that are in West Africa about returning to treat Ebola patients.
Wilbur got a full refund of the tuition he paid at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. He said he has a strong academic record and isn’t concerned about finding another school where he can pursue a nursing degree.