After state authorities ordered that he remain quarantined for 20 days, Ryan Boyko GRD ’18 was planning to challenge the order in court.
In an interview with the News on Monday, Nov. 3rd, Boyko said he and a second Ebola researcher, whose name has not been released, decided to not bring the case to court due to a number of political and legal issues. Furthermore, Boyko said that plans for their sequestering — which began while Boyko was still in Liberia — originated from a miscommunication with School of Public Health Dean Paul Cleary.
The two researchers returned from Liberia on Saturday, Oct. 11, and Boyko was briefly hospitalized on Wednesday, Oct. 15 after exhibiting signs of Ebola. He later tested negative for the virus.
In between two separate tests for the virus, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health Jewel Mullen sent a written order mandating 20 days of isolation in the hospital, despite the fact that Boyko had tested negative. After Yale-New Haven Hospital received a second negative test on Friday afternoon, Boyko was given new orders from Mullen, ordering a 20-day home quarantine, he said.
The quarantine for Boyko and the other student researcher was lifted on Thursday, Oct. 30, at midnight.
CHALLENGING THE QUARANTINE
Upon returning from YNHH, Boyko and his colleague consulted with public health workers and lawyers to see what actions they could take to fight the quarantine in court.
Boyko said they ultimately decided against fighting the quarantines in court because their case would end up heavily intertwined with the gubernatorial and judicial elections. In Connecticut, challenges against quarantines are reviewed by elected probate judges. Boyko added that he and his colleague did not want to run the risk of losing the case, and subsequently setting a bad precedent for other states.
According to Shelley Geballe LAW ’76 SPH ’95, a professor at the Yale Law School and School of Public Health, as well as the president and cofounder of Connecticut Voices for Children, any possible case could have been influenced by the hysteria over the spread of the disease in the United States. Geballe added that a lack of legitimate scientific information being communicated to the public could also have influenced the case had it been brought forward. As of late, Geballe has been working with other faculty at YLS and YSPH to change Connecticut’s quarantine statute.
And by the time the case would have reached court, Boyko said, the quarantine would likely have been over, rendering the case moot and leaving he and his colleague without standing.
Geballe said that the current Connecticut quarantine statute — created in 2003 after September 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed shortly after — raises concerns about due process. First, the statute only requires a “fair preponderance of evidence,” or only 51 percent certainty that the person or persons in question need to be quarantined for public health reasons. In most involuntary commitment cases — including quarantines, states adopt a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which places a greater burden of evidence on the state when it issues a quarantine.
Second, Geballe said, quarantine orders in Connecticut do not require the confirmation of a judge to go into effect. And finally, Connecticut has probate judges, who are elected, review challenges to quarantine orders. In most other states, plaintiffs requesting that a quarantine order be overturned go to appointed judges, who Geballe argued are more insulated from political pressure than probate judges.
Along with other faculty members at YLS and YSPH, Geballe hopes to address those due process concerns and create precedents for future instances of infectious disease quarantines. She added that the current differences between state quarantine laws make it difficult to enact change at a national level, especially in response to rapidly emerging epidemics.
“States should not adopt a patchwork of different standards for handling disease,” Geballe said. “It makes sense to rely on the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], as disease can cross national and state lines. It would be better to adopt uniform standards based on CDC guidelines.”
MISCOMMUNICATION ABOUT SEQUESTERING
Before the state-ordered quarantine, Cleary announced via email to the entire public health school that Boyko and the other student researcher had agreed to voluntarily self-sequester.
But according to both Boyko and Cleary, those plans for sequestering originated from a miscommunication. While Cleary thought that the two researchers had volunteered to stay away from all public health school facilities, Boyko said they had only communicated to their principal investigator that they would stay away from the specific office in which they worked because they had heard that some of their coworkers were concerned about them returning to the building. This offer came a day or two before the first school-wide email was sent, Boyko said.
“The voluntary sequester announcement was based on a misunderstanding of some communications,” Cleary said in a Monday email to the News. “Based on an e-mail exchange, I thought the students had offered to stay away from work for that period.”
On Oct. 13, 11 days after the sequester had been announced, Cleary announced in a second email to the public health school community that a group of medical experts had determined that the sequester was unnecessary, and that it would be lifted.
According to Cleary, even before the second announcement, the school had not required the students to sequester themselves. But from a series of miscommunications, administrators had assumed the students planned to do so.
Boyko said that he and his fellow researcher were not aware that they were supposedly sequestering themselves until the first school-wide email announcing their sequestering was sent. He added that they had no direct communication with Cleary until after it was sent.
“After the [first email], we sent an email to Dean Cleary asking for a clarification of what he meant and expressing our desire that he would have asked us before sending it,” Boyko said. “Other people in the School of Public Health responded directly to us two that they thought it sent the wrong public health message.”
Cleary said he would not discuss specifics of the email exchanges and other communications on the topic of sequestering.
But Cleary did say that the word sequester was never used by the students in their email exchanges with the administration, and he personally chose to use the word in the first email to the public health school community.
“My understanding based on our communication, which it turns out was incorrect, was that they volunteered to stay away from work for the period,” Cleary said in a Tuesday email to the News. “They never used the word sequester. I used that word in an attempt to convey that it was not quarantine.” Though a sequester and a quarantine have the same practical implications, the latter is a legally enforceable order.
After the researchers expressed their frustration with the original email, they were allowed to see subsequent emails before they were sent, Boyko said.
Even without a court case, Boyko said he feels that his personal story could be crucial in effecting policy change in the state.
“I think especially with my situation, I had a chance to get a message out there that a lot of people couldn’t,” Boyko said. “Cleary and other people who are far more qualified scientifically can say [their message] as many times as they want, but it still won’t resonate with people until they have a personal face to it.”