Updated: 12:11 p.m.
The Yale graduate student whose fever spurred panic about the possibility of Ebola in Connecticut just under two weeks ago publicly identified himself Monday night on cable television.
Skyping into The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC from his home, Ryan Boyko GRD ’18, a Ph.D candidate in the School of Public Health’s epidemiology of microbial diseases department, spoke publicly for the first time about his experience at Yale-New Haven Hospital, what it is like to live in quarantine and his opinions on the state’s current quaratine policy, which he said is unnecessary and not rooted in science. Boyko’s televised appearance is the first time either of the two researchers who returned from Liberia and were quarantined have identified themselves publicly.
Boyko said that throughout his stay at YNHH and his quarantine, health officials appeared unsure as to how to move forward. Boyko was admitted to YNHH on Oct. 15 after developing a fever, was placed in isolation immediately and tested for the virus. Although two separate tests came back negative, he was still placed under quarantine as required by a state mandate.
“It wasn’t clear right away what was happening,” Boyko said. “There was a miscommunication between the state and local officials and the police.”
Boyko added that Connecticut’s current quarantine policy is not backed by scientific evidence. Instead, the policy makes it less likely that health care workers will travel to West Africa to provide medical aid because they will be required to stay in quarantine for three weeks upon their return. Most medical workers spend four weeks in West Africa before returning to their countries of origin, so the quarantine would nearly double the time that the workers are away from their jobs, he said.
Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin said that a three-week quarantine is concerning because it will disincentive health care workers from coming and going to West Africa.
“I’m not sure it is the best practice in public health policy,” Genecin said.
Genecin added that the administration was unaware that Boyko would come forth with his identity, but that he was glad Boyko was healthy.
Still, Boyko said the quaratine has been “very isolating,” adding that he cannot have visitors, see his family or friends or exercise.
A Monday New York Times article highlighted public criticism — including from the White House and the United Nations Secretary General — towards New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for hastily instituting mandatory 21-day quarantines for travelers who had direct contact with Ebola patients. Critics of the policy, which was outlined on Friday, claimed that the governors were motivated by politics rather than science.
Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern said he was not aware of Boyko’s identity and that he had only become involved in the case when Boyko was admitted to YNHH. Alpern added that HIPAA laws prevented him from learning Boyko’s name.
“The hospital couldn’t tell me his name,” Alpern said. “The only way I could have known his name is if someone at Yale told me.”
Dean of the School of Public Health Paul Cleary declined to comment on Boyko’s public appearance.
In a public letter released on Monday and addressed to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Cleary opposed the New York state quarantines, along with over 100 other AIDS activists. The letter deemed the New York state policy unacceptable and not supported by scientific evidence.
Cleary said he signed the letter because he thinks certain states are addressing the virus in a counterproductive way. Cleary added, however, that this letter referred strictly to New York state policy.
Branford Master and public health professor Elizabeth Bradley said she also did not know Boyko was going to share his identity, though she did know that he was one of the two students under quarantine. Bradley said Boyko had contacted her via Skype to share his experience since returning from Liberia.
University spokesman Tom Conroy said that Boyko’s decision to go pubic was entirely up to him, and that the interview on MSNBC does not create any concerns for the University.
In the past, Boyko has traveled to Africa and elsewhere with Cornell’s Village Dog Genetic Diversity Project, which samples dog genes for testing in order to identify and treat various human diseases.
On Boyko’s LinkedIn, he specifies that his area of study focuses on the role of domestic animals, especially dogs and pigs, in the spread of human intestinal parasites in sub-Saharan Africa.
The second and final Ebola test run on Boyko by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back negative on Oct. 17.