Several people quarantined in Connecticut after returning from West Africa during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 were essentially imprisoned illegally under a state policy based on politics, not science, according to a lawsuit they filed on Monday.
The lawsuit was filed by Yale Law School students against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state health officials on behalf of plaintiffs including a West African family of six quarantined at a relative’s home for 20 days and a current student and former student at the Yale School of Public Health who were under 20-day quarantine orders at their homes.
Other plaintiffs are planning to return to Connecticut from Liberia soon.
The eight plaintiffs quarantined under state policy had no Ebola symptoms, had no contact with anyone with Ebola symptoms and never contracted the deadly virus. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an order preventing such quarantines in the future.
“Being quarantined made me feel like a criminal,” Laura Skrip, one of the two Yale School of Public Health students quarantined, said in a statement issued by the law students. “There was no scientific reason to confine me to my apartment, with no visitors and a police officer parked outside my door.”
An adviser to Malloy defended the quarantine policy Monday. An executive order signed by Malloy in October 2014, which remains in effect, gives the state’s public health commissioner the authority to quarantine people who may have been exposed to or infected with Ebola.
“Our first priority remains protecting the public from both foreseeable and unforeseeable harms – whether it be storms or disease or otherwise,” said the adviser, Christopher McClure.
Like the governors of New York and New Jersey at the time, Malloy adopted more stringent policies than the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie and state health officials are facing a similar lawsuit by a nurse who said she was illegally quarantined at a hospital, despite having no symptoms, when she returned to New Jersey from West Africa.
Malloy, a Democrat, signed the quarantine order when he was running for re-election in the fall of 2014, a time when “sensationalist news accounts stoked public fear that travelers might bring Ebola across the ocean to our state,” according to the Connecticut lawsuit, which accuses officials of violating the plantiffs’ constitutional rights.
Leaders of the Liberian community in Connecticut said the effects of the quarantines were severe.
“Local Liberians were asked by community members not to return to work and to keep their children off of public school buses,” said Flomo Freeman, president of the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut. “Community members fear traveling to see family and friends in Liberia because we know from the state’s past conduct that future Ebola cases in West Africa may spur further mistreatment in Connecticut.”
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