Here’s a counterintuitive solution to Maine’s not-really-Ebola crisis:

Take Gov. Paul LePage, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Sheila Pinette and lock them in a remote cabin somewhere in Aroostook County.

It’s the best way to prevent their ignorance from infecting the entire state of Maine.

You’d think that with less than a week before voters go to the polls to decide whether to re-elect him, LePage would first and foremost be avoiding anything that even remotely resembles political quicksand.

Yet there the Big Guy stood on Thursday, neck deep in a controversy of his own making, as nurse Kaci Hickox got on her bicycle in Fort Kent and reminded us all what the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness looks like.

And right alongside LePage stood Mayhew and Pinette, Maine’s answer to Dumb and Dumber.


You want incompetence? Consider the Department of Health and Human Services’ attempt on Wednesday – after failing in their initial attempt the day before – to simply set up a media conference call.

It began at 12:46 p.m. with this heads-up from DHHS spokesman John Martins: “Maine Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew and Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette will hold a news conference today at 4:30 p.m. at the Augusta DHHS Office, 221 State Street. Those who cannot attend may join via conference call.”

4:32 p.m.: “The phone number is correct. The call will be up shortly.”

4:41 p.m.: “NEW NUMBER. We have had technical difficulties with the phone line and have to change the number …”

5:01 p.m.: “Due to inferior sound quality and feedback that was interfering with the press conference, the call had to be disconnected. I will let you know if we are able to post any audio from the call.”

6:57 p.m.: “Due to problems with feedback, we had to end the conference call portion of today’s press conference …”


But we digress. The problem here extends far beyond LePage & Company’s penchant for pushing all the wrong buttons.

Infinitely more galling is their insistence that Nurse Hickox, fresh back from saving lives in West Africa, is a threat to public safety when, in fact, she isn’t. Not to mention their pathetic attempts to keep her confined to her home in Fort Kent when they have no such legal authority whatsoever.

Let’s recap:

When Hickox headed for Maine on Monday after freeing herself from the clutches of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the LePage administration announced she would place herself in “voluntary” quarantine until her 21-day window for contracting Ebola expires on Nov. 10.

Hickox’s attorney then said his client had agreed to no such thing.

On Wednesday, after Hickox and her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, finally showed up at their home in Fort Kent, they were greeted by a Maine State Police cruiser parked out front and an order from Augusta to stay inside or else.


The next morning, Hickox and Wilbur went for a bike ride.

Thursday afternoon, with the ever-growing thicket of satellite TV trucks beaming each breathtaking development to the entire nation, LePage huffed and puffed that “negotiations” with Hickox had broken down. A statement from his office promised he would “exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law” in order to “assure the public health is protected.”

Way to go, Big Guy. Nothing’s scarier than a woman who isn’t even sick, let alone contagious.

About that “allowable by law” threat, presumably a reference to the Maine statute that gives the state sweeping powers – subject to judicial review – in the event of an “extreme public health emergency”:

The statute defines that as “the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread exposure to a highly infectious or toxic agent that poses an imminent threat of substantial harm to the population of the State.”

Again, Hickox is not sick. And as long as she’s not sick, according to medical experts the world over, she poses no “imminent threat of substantial harm” to anyone.


What makes LePage’s tough-guy strategy so laughable is that it’s rooted in 100 percent pure, unadulterated politics. Had he picked up the phone and called, say, an epidemiologist, he’d have quickly learned that the real objective should be to calm fears, not stoke them; to educate people, not pander to their fantasies of the microscopic bogeyman.

But alas, Maine hasn’t had a state epidemiologist since Dr. Stephen Sears left the position back in May and Mayhew, as well as Pinette, didn’t see fit to immediately replace him.

Yet there was Sears’ name, along with those of a dozen other leading Maine infectious disease experts, at the bottom of an op-ed submitted to the Portland Press Herald on Thursday to quell “the epidemic of fear spreading in Maine and elsewhere about Ebola.”

The piece, authored by Dr. Lisa Ryan, president of the Maine Medical Association, and Dr. Lani Graham, a former state health officer, explained in crystal-clear terms why quarantining returning health workers like Nurse Hickox “is not supported by the science or experience.”

“Even if a health care worker were unknowingly exposed to the Ebola virus while working in an affected area, 40 years of experience and biological evidence show they are not contagious before symptoms are present,” the experts wrote. “This evidence also indicates that fever usually precedes the contagious stages, allowing time for people to identify themselves and be isolated before they can transmit it to others in the community.”

The same theme was echoed on Friday by Charles LaVerdiere, chief judge of the Maine District Court, when he threw out LePage’s draconian restrictions on Hickox while leaving in place the safeguards she’s more than happy to follow: “direct active monitoring” of her health, coordination of any travel with public health authorities and, of course, immediate self-reporting should any Ebola symptoms arise.


LaVerdiere, bless him, went on to bemoan “the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola. The Court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.”

LePage, for reasons having far more to do with Tuesday’s election than the health and safety of his constituents, has done more than anyone in this state to fuel that fear. Unable to keep Hickox confined to her home, he reappeared before the cameras on Friday to say: “I don’t trust her. And I don’t trust that we know enough about this disease to be so callous.”

Erroneous word choice aside (or was it a Freudian slip?), LePage’s performance last week heaped yet another embarrassment onto a state that has been a national punchline for four long years.

So did his quip, in the wake of a possible hepatitis A exposure to patrons of a southern Maine restaurant his administration refuses to name, that President Obama needs “to pay attention to the illegals in our country because there’s been a spike in hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV.”

Truth be told, the only thing spiking in Maine these days is Paul LePage’s cynical exploitation of fear and ignorance. And the good news is that come Tuesday, we’ll have an antidote to that.

It’s called a ballot.

Handle it with care.


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