After returning from conducting Ebola research in Liberia, the two Yale public health students who had previously agreed to sequester themselves have reversed their decision.
Yale School of Public Health Dean Paul Cleary said in an email to public health students that the decision follows consideration by a team of physicians, epidemiologists and administrators. The two researchers were in Liberia working on a computer system modeling the spread of the Ebola virus. In an email sent a week earlier, Cleary said the researchers never came in direct contact with infected individuals.
“I don’t want to get into details — who said what to whom,” Cleary said. “Just [know] that it was a very careful, thought-out process.”
Initially, the researchers decided to voluntarily sequester themselves at home for 21 days — the incubation period for the virus. Cleary also said this decision comes after consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that the students will still be following the CDC’s recommended precautionary measures.
The email stressed that the risk of the virus infecting Yale students and faculty are low, and that measures taken toward sequestering the students were mainly to quell the fears of members of the public, who may not know how the virus spreads. The virus can only be transmitted through bodily fluids and not air transmission, Cleary said in a previous email to the YSPH community.
Isaac Wasserman ’14 SPH ’15, who works for Doctors Without Borders, said that it is unnecessary to be fearful of the spread of the Ebola virus, which, unlike other viruses such as smallpox, cannot be transmitted until the symptoms have presented themselves. Nonetheless, society often ignores facts in favor of hysteria, Wasserman said.
“I have an abundance of respect for the two researchers’ acknowledgement of the public’s fear, but I am also happy that rationality has finally won out,” Wasserman said, adding that a three-week sequestering on top of medical monitoring is unnecessary.
With the first death of an Ebola patient on American soil and a second confirmed infection, national attention has focused on how to prepare for the possibility of a larger outbreak.
Over the past several weeks, members of Yale’s Emergency Operations team have met with senior officials from the Yale-New Haven Health System as well as representatives from the New Haven Health Department, the New Haven Office of Emergency Management and the Connecticut Department of Public Health to discuss Ebola preparedness, said Karen Peart, deputy university press secretary for medicine and health sciences in a Monday email.
Yale has points of contact with the national CDC as well, Peart added.
“[These groups] are actively meeting, actively conferencing, to discuss what every community needs to do to avoid a situation like Texas,” said Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin. “This is not a small thing. This is huge.”
The collaboration between the University, Yale-New Haven and various government agencies has involved task forces and weekly conference calls, said James Paturas, director of the Yale-New Haven Center for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response. Representatives from the organizations are discussing how to streamline staff training and protocol in the case of an outbreak, he said.
“Thankfully, there’s no immediate threat in our own community, but we’re mindful that there are active Yale programs in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” Genecin said. “We’re aware that we’re not a self-contained university. We’re very global. Having in place a metric system for tracking who’s where, what advice we’re giving before and after travel is very important.”
A new website, created by the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications, has been set up by the University and provides information on the virus and the university’s current response efforts.
Richard Skolnik ’72, a Professor of Public Health, was quick to point out that the larger issue remains in Africa. He said that what is needed now is more action — the type of action that the formerly sequestered students were providing.
“While the US may be ‘doubling down’ against Ebola, as some say, it is clear that no single person or agency is in the lead against Ebola, there is no coherent system for stabilizing, referring, or managing Ebola cases, and many, if not, most health care workers are ill prepared to deal with this virus,” Skolnik said. “While I do think we will contain the virus here, we need to urgently organize a much more coherent, effective, and efficient response to it.”
Skolnik said other hospital-borne infections, which kill more than 200,000 people a year, are evidence that hospital staff cannot always contain infection.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy declared a public health emergency for the state last Tuesday.