A major U.S. public health organization has become the second group impacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Ebola response policy as it prepares to bring 14,000 people to New Orleans.
State health officials advised the American Public Health Association that registrants recently returned from Ebola-stricken countries and those who have treated patients stateside should stay home.
“We vigorously disagree. It’s not scientifically based, as it needs to be,” Dr. George Benjamin, executive director of the APHA, said Friday. “We respect their right to have that opinion. We will abide by it and share it with our members.”
The conference is scheduled for Nov. 15-19.
The same message earlier went to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which opens its big annual meeting in New Orleans on Sunday. The group’s leadership also noted its strong disagreement with the policy.
State Department of Health and Hospitals communications director Olivia Watkins said the state policy applies equally to Louisiana residents and visitors to the state. Louisiana residents returning from an Ebola-impacted West African nation must be monitored for 21 days, as well as refrain from public transportation.
“As we are aware of conferences that may have participants that may meet the travel or exposure criteria, we will issue similar guidance as needed,” Watkins said.
Benjamin said the number of Public Health conference registrants impacted by the state’s position would be minimal. On one conference day, a morning-long session is planned involving “important health features of the Ebola virus disease epidemic in West Africa and the roles of public health professionals in addressing this major epidemic.” Benjamin said none of the scheduled speakers would be impacted by the state policy.
Benjamin said people infected with the Ebola virus first have to exhibit symptoms before they are contagious.
“Even when you get symptoms, the risk of infecting someone is extremely low,” he said.
The medical professionals who have been treating Ebola-infected patients at hospitals get to go home every day, Benjamin said. In addition, the family members of those who elect to self-quarantine also go out of their residences every day, he said.
Benjamin said state officials said they want to treat everyone in the same way whether it be Louisiana residents or anyone coming to the state. “We just disagree that it’s necessary,” he said.
“But our reason for being there is so important to talk about health care coverage, deal with issues of poverty, deal with issues of violence, ” Benjamin said. “There are so many things in public health we need to talk about publicly.”