Police stand watch 24 hours a day outside a home in West Haven, Connecticut, where a family of six that recently traveled to West Africa remains quarantined.
On Oct. 16, Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered that anyone who has traveled to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone — the three countries most affected by Ebola — quarantine themselves for 21 days. The West Haven family, which makes up six of the nine people who are currently quarantined in the state, flew to the U.S. on Oct. 18 from one of these three countries. Neither the governor’s office nor the city’s department of health has identified which of the three affected countries the family traveled from, nor did they disclose the identities of the six people.
No members have the family have exhibited any symptoms of the deadly virus, the Connecticut Department of Public Health said in an article in the CT Mirror last week.
While the quarantines are meant to protect the broader public from the virus — which is spread through bodily fluids — some people of West African origin have expressed concern that the rising number of quarantines could lead to misconceptions.
“Every time somebody introduces you as a Liberian they say ‘Oh, that’s where Ebola is,’ and everyone turns around and looks,” said Joseph Morris Kalapele, president of the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut. “People almost instantly try to distance themselves.”
Although Kalapele could not confirm where the quarantined family traveled, Mayor of West Haven Ed O’Brien told the New Haven Register that he believes the six residents are from Liberia. The six must remain quarantined for a total of 21 days from when they returned from Africa, in accordance with Connecticut’s response procedure.
While Kalapele agrees that the quarantines are necessary from a medical standpoint, he said they can also have negative consequences. The quarantines have raised a stigma around those native to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Because police stand watch in front of the homes, passersby can easily identify those houses under quarantine. This, he added, has caused an “extensive stigma” to surround Western African communities.
“Often, they don’t even know if you’re infected or have family members that are infected. Once the connection is made, they walk away,” Kalapele said.
However effective or necessary the West Haven quarantine might be, it is also scaring West Haven residents. Knowing local residents are being quarantined within a community is often disconcerting for residents, said Terry Pesticci, an employee at Jerri’s Luncheonette, a restaurant in West Haven.
“I’d be a little scared and hold off if I were to meet [someone who has traveled to West Africa],” Pesticci said. “Just because of everything that’s been happening.”
The question of how to deal with Ebola is under increased scrutiny in face of the upcoming gubernatorial elections, one of the tightest races nationwide.
Malloy’s first order in response to the Ebola outbreak was enacted on Oct. 6, when he declared a state of public health emergency, giving the commissioner of the State Department of Public Health the authority to quarantine or isolate people who are believed to have been exposed to the virus. While there were no cases of Ebola in the northeast at the time, it was important to have precautionary measures in place, Malloy said in a press release.
Following a false alarm on Oct. 16 in which a Yale graduate student showed Ebola-like symptoms — but later tested negative — Malloy upped the state’s response.
Whereas before, only those who could have potentially been exposed to the virus were quarantined, under his new order on Oct. 16, anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the last 21 days is also included.
“I believe we must go above and beyond what the CDC is recommending, just as we did last week when I issued a preemptive declaration,” Malloy said in an Oct. 16 press release.
Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.