Amid the backlash to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's mandatory quarantine of a nurse who returned from Ebola-ravaged West Africa, Connecticut officials said Monday eight people in the state are currently under quarantine — more than any other state in the country.
Under guidelines issued by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, anyone returning to the state from Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone is subject to mandatory health monitoring and may be placed under involuntary quarantine if the commissioner of the state's health department determines they "have met the threshold for such action."
According to state health officials, there are eight people currently under involuntary quarantine in Connecticut, including Ryan Boyko, a Yale graduate student who was isolated after returning from Liberia earlier this month despite testing negative for Ebola.
"I'm outraged and very upset about the impact that this policy and the subsequent policies in other states will have on the actual fight to contain Ebola in West Africa," Boyko, a Ph.D candidate in the School of Public Health’s epidemiology of microbial diseases department, told the Hartford Courant.
“We have taken this situation very seriously for months,” Malloy said in a statement announcing the new protocols. “With the news of a recent traveler with Ebola in neighboring New York, it is critical that we look at each case on an individual basis. The protocols outlined here will ensure that we have the ability to take preventative action that will protect public health, utilizing the best information we have and the expertise of our public health officials. [We] will continue to err on the side of caution in each and every circumstance.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ebola can be spread only through direct contact with blood or body fluids of a person exhibiting symptoms. But under the Connecticut guidelines, a person who is not sick can be held under quarantine "because they may have been exposed to an infectious or contagious disease."
Boyko was admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital on Oct. 15 with a fever and placed in isolation. He was tested twice for the disease, with both tests coming back negative, but Boyko was placed under a 21-day state-mandated quarantine anyway.
His quarantine ends Thursday — 21 days after he left Africa. A fellow doctoral candidate from Yale who worked with Boyko in Liberia was also quarantined.
Gregg Gonsalves, co-director of the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership, told the Courant that the students should be released from quarantine because they have no fever "and never had high risk exposure."
In Texas — where two nurses were diagnosed with Ebola after treating a Liberian man who died from the virus — 97 people who are currently being monitored for symptoms agreed to isolate themselves from the public, but those are not considered mandatory quarantines.
The guidelines issued by the tri-state governors (as well as similar measures in Illinois and Georgia) go beyond those issued by the CDC, which recommends voluntary isolation for returning health-care workers — not a mandatory quarantine.
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a 21-day mandatory quarantine for all health-care workers returning from West Africa after it was revealed that a New York City doctor diagnosed with Ebola had taken the subway, visited restaurants and gone bowling hours before he tested positive. The doctor, Craig Spencer, is in isolation at Bellevue Hospital, where he listed in serious but stable condition.
Over the weekend, Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was forcibly quarantined in New Jersey after returning from Liberia, complained about “inhumane” conditions in her isolation unit in a tent outside University Hospital in Newark.
On Sunday, Cuomo backtracked, saying those who have had direct contact with Ebola-infected people in West Africa would be subject to three-week home confinement.
On Monday, Hickox was discharged, but Christie defended his state's policy.
“I don’t think it’s draconian,” Christie said on the "Today" show. “The members of the American public believe it is common sense, and we are not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.”
Boyko said such policies for handling health-care workers are "promoting fear and stigma and reacting to public fear instead of leading and saying this is the medical evidence."
"What we really need to do is to make it easy as we can for people with the required skills to go help in West Africa," Boyko added. "All of this discourages people from doing that."