An unidentified nurse has returned to Texas from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport this morning.
The nurse has no symptoms of the disease, but has agreed to a request from Gov. Rick Perry to self-quarantine at home for 21 days. In a statement, Gov. Perry called her a "health care hero" and said the state will check in on her twice a day, but she was not forced to quarantine.
Rich Parsons, the deputy communications director for Perry’s office, says the governor's priority is public safety, "but he also wants to make sure that the state is taking actions that will not dissuade an aid worker or health care worker from deciding to go to West Africa to the Ebola stricken nations and engage in this heroic fight to stop this disease."
Texas Tech University law professor Jennifer Bard, an expert on quarantine law, says the state statute doesn't specify how serious the risk of exposure needs to be to enforce a mandatory quarantine.
"The question is, how serious a risk is it and is it a risk worth placing them under a quarantine," Bard says. "That's a political decision based on an assessment of the risk to the public."
Ross Ramsey, executive editor at the Texas Tribune, says the politics of Ebola quarantines are proving tricky for governors.
"Every governor you're talking about, whether it's Gov. Perry or [Chris] Christie or [Andrew] Cuomo or anyone else, is learning from what all the other governors are doing," Ramsey says. "I think one of the things that Rick Perry got to see vicariously and didn't have to learn himself was what happens if the state orders somebody into isolation."
Perry's response has differed from governors in New Jersey or New York who have imposed mandatory quarantines on health workers returning from West Africa. Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to force nurse Kaci Hickox into quarantine. She has no symptoms of Ebola and has refused to stay at home.