- Ryan Boyko
Yale University graduate student in public health. He was in Liberia for three weeks helping the government set up a computer database of Ebola cases. Soon after his return to the United States, he was placed in quarantine in his home in New Haven, Connecticut. His quarantine ended last Thursday.
Health officials have declared the Dallas region to be free of Ebola after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it had cleared all 177 people it had been checking for exposure over the past three weeks. The Texas city’s Ebola worries began on September 30 when a visiting Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, was taken by ambulance to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where he was diagnosed with the disease. He eventually died on October 8 and remains the only person to die of Ebola inside the United States. Two nurses who cared for him came down with the virus but recovered. Meanwhile in West Africa, the United Nations is reporting the spread of the virus is slowing in some of the hardest hit areas of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But local health officials are warning it is too early to declare a premature victory over the outbreak. We are joined from by Ryan Boyko, a Yale University graduate student who was in Liberia for three weeks helping the government set up a computer database of Ebola cases. Soon after his return to the United States, he was quarantined in his home in New Haven, Connecticut, an ordeal that ended last Thursday.
AMY GOODMAN: Health officials declared the Dallas region to be free of Ebola after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it had cleared all 177 people it had been checking for Ebola exposure over the past three weeks. The Texas city’s Ebola worries began on September 30th when a visiting Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, was taken by ambulance to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where he was diagnosed with the disease. He eventually died October 8th and remains the only person to die of Ebola inside the United States. Two nurses who cared for him came down with Ebola but recovered.
Meanwhile in West Africa, the United Nations is reporting the spread of the virus is slowing in some of the hardest-hit areas of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But local health officials are warning it’s too early to declare a premature victory over the outbreak. This is the head of Liberia’s Ebola response, Tolbert Yansah.
TOLBERT YANSAH: We are not off the hook here, because Sierra Leone and Guinea are still reporting cases. And so, Liberia here, we are still reporting fresh cases. We need to continue the interventions, scale them up, accelerate the intervention until Liberia can start reporting zero cases. And even if we start reporting zero cases, trust me, when Guinea and Sierra Leone still are not reporting zero cases, our ETUs need to be open.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to New Haven, Connecticut, where we’re joined by Ryan Boyko. He’s a Yale University graduate student in public health. He was in Liberia for three weeks helping the government set up a computer database of Ebola cases. Soon after his return to the U.S., he was placed in quarantine in his home in New Haven, Connecticut. His quarantine lasted ’til last Thursday.
Ryan Boyko, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk first about what you found when you got to Liberia?
RYAN BOYKO: Thanks for having me on. When I got to Liberia, I was in Monrovia, and the whole city seemed a bit shellshocked, but it was a mix of this fear that was always present along with normal everyday activities. You know, people still need to work. People still need to get food for their families, feed their families. And, you know, this is a city of nearly one-and-a-half million people with a few thousand Ebola cases. So, there’s this fear, was always there, and you could just see it in the streets. But at the same time, there was this mix of that along with people going about their daily business.
AMY GOODMAN: And the work exactly that you did there, and then what happened upon your return?
RYAN BOYKO: So, I helped the government, the Ministry of Health, build a web app and an Android phone application and a database, where local community leaders could use the Android app to notify the Ministry of Health about cases or deaths or other relevant events happening in their local area. And then the people at the Ministry of Health could then see in real time where in the city they needed to send people to mount a response, either to get people to Ebola treatment units or get a funeral team there or do other things like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And were you successful, and is this working now in Liberia?
RYAN BOYKO: Yeah, so that database and that Android app are being used in Monrovia throughout the city now, and I think that it’s one of many pieces that’s contributing, hopefully, to the continued decline in new cases in Liberia.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan, it must have been a very serious decision you made to go to Liberia, given how contagious Ebola is. Can you talk about the decision you made, for other people who are weighing this right now?
RYAN BOYKO: Well, in my own case, I knew I wouldn’t be treating Ebola patients, that, you know, I would be working with IT personnel and with people at the Ministry of Health. And so, there’s always that little bit of fear, some small level of risk, given that the virus is infecting thousands of people there. And so, it’s not, you know, as contained as in the U.S., in New York City or Dallas or somewhere like that, so there was a little fear. But at the same time, it is—Ebola really is spread by bodily fluids of very sick people, so I wasn’t—I didn’t think that the risk to me was anything like what the risk that these healthcare workers or those kinds of people are facing. And so I have a lot of respect for people who choose to take on that level of risk for themselves. But I think that a lot of people, myself included, feel like the only way that we could get a handle on this is to actually go to the source and help to end it at the source. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what happened to you when you returned?
RYAN BOYKO: So, actually, I was here for a couple days, and then I got sick with a little bit of a fever. And so I went to Yale-New Haven Hospital. I called, and they used all the precautions. And I got an Ebola test there, and it came back negative twice. And my symptoms resolved. And that was the point when the government of Connecticut decided to quarantine me and so sent me back to my home to stay there for over two weeks in quarantine.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you feel about that? Did you feel you were treated correctly?
RYAN BOYKO: No. So, I was really concerned about the effect it might have on other volunteers, first of all, moving forward and that it might have a big effect on our ability to fight the epidemic in West Africa if we started quarantining all these returning workers. And then I felt personally like it was very unfair, especially because I had been monitoring myself, which is what the CDC recommends, which is what one needs to do, because after you develop symptoms, you can become contagious. And I had done that, and I reported it as soon as I developed any symptoms. And then to be told, because I reported it, essentially, that I would be quarantined seemed particularly egregious.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a recent interview with Kaci Hickox, the nurse who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and fought against mandatory quarantine in the U.S. when she returned last month. She was asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper why she defied state authorities in both New Jersey and Maine. This was part of her response.
KACI HICKOX: Coming back to the Newark airport and seeing complete chaos and disorganization and no leadership was a really frustrating sight to see. And when policies are put in place and sort of the policies aren’t organized well and staff aren’t trained well is just a scary situation. But, of course, the biggest reason that I fought is because I, you know, felt so much fear and confusion, and I imagined what my fellow aid workers were going to feel if they came back to this same situation. And the more I thought about the fact that these policies are being made by politicians, really, not the experts in the field, the more I felt like I had no choice but to fight back.
AMY GOODMAN: And now, I understand, Kaci Hickox says she will be leaving Maine. Your quarantines overlapped, though you personally didn’t. You’re in New Haven, she is in Maine. I think her quarantine ends today. Your response to Kaci Hickox speaking out? And did that inspire you to speak out, Ryan?
RYAN BOYKO: I have a lot of respect for Kaci Hickox. We’ve actually exchanged some emails and text messages, and I have a lot of respect for her. When I was put into quarantine, actually Connecticut was the only state in the nation with a stated policy that far exceeded the CDC guidelines and is a policy—at the time, they were saying they would quarantine anyone returning from these three countries. And so, I made the decision, in consultation with public health lawyers that I was talking to, that the best thing to do at that moment was to try to get Connecticut government to quietly walk back these quarantines, instead of fighting loudly in the press and in court. And then, of course, the events where Craig Spencer became symptomatic with Ebola in New York, and then Kaci Hickox came back and there was the very loud story between Chris Christie and Governor Cuomo and her, and so that was—so that did inspire me to come out and speak out publicly at that point, where I then thought that was the best way to go.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan, I wanted to share some comments made last month by NBC cameraman and Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo, whom you met in Liberia at a restaurant. He was asked about the mandatory quarantine being imposed on Kaci Hickox. He also talked, as you do, about Craig Spencer being treated in New York. This is Ashoka Mukpo on CNN.
ASHOKA MUKPO: She’s earned a right to, you know, have a sense of her own safety and her own risk factor to others. And I don’t think that Dr. Spencer endangered anyone. My feeling is—and, you know, again, I’m not an expert, this is just my own view on the exposure that I’ve had to Ebola—is I think that Governor Christie is playing politics right now. It seems to me that it’s an effort to, you know, work with public opinion rather than listen to the advice of the experts. And I just think that it’s counterproductive. You know, these are people who have gone and endangered their lives to work with people who have very limited resources and are dying in relatively large numbers. So, to make it more difficult and to treat them as if they’re a potential problem as opposed to a public asset, I just think it’s a shame, and I don’t think it’s the right way to act.
AMY GOODMAN: That, again, speaking on CNN, NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo. We just have 20 seconds for you to respond, Ryan, since you met him in Liberia.
RYAN BOYKO: Well, I think that he was also doing great work there. He had been living there for a while. And I think documenting what’s happening is very important. But I totally agree with him that the heroes of this response are the Liberians and the Westerners who go and actually are treating these patients, putting themselves at risk. And we need to treat them like returning heroes, because they’re protecting the rest of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Boyko, I want to thank you for being with us, third-year Yale University graduate student in public health, went to Liberia, returned and was put in quarantine at his home in New Haven, Connecticut.