Estrella Lasry was readying her presentation on three years worth of malaria data in west Africa when she received an e-mail disinviting her to a major tropical medicine conference taking place in Louisiana next week. The reason: she was currently in Liberia. 
The tropical medicine advisor with Doctors Without Borders had been working in that west African country on a malaria project—distributing drugs to reduce the death rate among children under five years of age—when she was notified that the State of Louisiana wanted to limit “unnecessary exposure of Ebola to the general public” and would be requesting all individuals who had traveled to Ebola-affected countries voluntarily quarantine themselves for 21 days following their relevant travel history, regardless of their symptoms.
Lasry had also seen some Ebola patients at a Doctors Without Borders clinic while in Liberia, but even if she had not, she still would not be welcome at the conference, according to the email signed by Louisiana government officials. The state's action did not have the force of law behind it, nor were conference organizers going to screen participants with questions when they showed up at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) meeting but attendees and officials say effectively, it was a ban on such attendance. Even though complying with Louisiana's request is not mandatory, participants are unlikely to want to take a chance on spending the entire conference trapped in their hotel rooms. 
“Individuals who have traveled to and returned from the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea in the past 21 days, or have had contact with a known [Ebola] patient in that time period, should not travel to New Orleans to attend the conference. Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” read the email, signed by Kathy Kliebert, Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) in Louisiana and Kevin Davis, the director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the state. The e-mail had been passed on by ASTMH at the request of government officials.
“It’s really a pity. I’m fine. I’m taking my temperature twice a day,” Lasry says. "I’m in Paris right now, shaking hands with people, giving kisses to people, I’m going to go see my family this weekend in Spain and [transmission of Ebola] is not an issue because I’m not symptomatic," she says. “If I was symptomatic, I wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk and I would follow procedures to ensure we didn’t put anyone at risk.”
Yet Lasry will not be given the chance to make her own assessments in Louisiana, nor will her colleague who is similarly barred from attending the conference. The organization is sending another researcher to present the findings in their stead but Lasry says that not going to the conference is a shame because “it’s one of the places you meet a lot of people you work with or will work with and it’s a central meeting hub.”
Lasry wasn’t the only one taken by surprise by the decision. The president of ASTMH, Alan Magill, was also taken aback by the state’s action. At 8 P.M. local time on October 27, he and other ASTMH leadership dialed into a conference call with officials from DHH.  Notified only hours earlier that they should dial in, he says, they were not sure what aspect of the conference the officials wished to discuss. “I didn’t see this coming. I suppose perhaps that can be attributed to the fact that we are scientists, physicians, public health people and we assume everyone understands the biology here and will follow it. And that’s wrong, of course…this did surprise us.”
On the call, he says, state officials talked about the state’s policy and asked them not to allow people who had recently been in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to attend the meetingThe state’s Department of Health and Hospitals did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. “We disagreed with the decision but for a host of reasons we think the decision was fixed and firm and we felt that the proper thing to do was to notify our attendees of this policy. It’s in no way our approval of this policy,” Magill says.  “We felt certain some [attendees] would be impacted and wanted to make sure there was no unpleasant surprise for them upon arrival,” he says. Even as they tried to push back on the decision for the next 36 hours, he said, they sent an email to attendees on October 29 alerting them to the state’s official message—the note that Lasry received.
The best-case scenario, Magill says, was they were hoping to convince Louisiana officials to allow them to make a “case-by-case determination” with attendees but they were turned down.
At that point, just days before the conference that is slated to kick off on Sunday night with an opening speech by Bill Gates, it was too late to move the conference, which already had 3,590 registered attendees. The conference, which cost between $160 for students to $880 for non-members to attend, is already issuing refunds to some attendees who will not be able to make it.
“This is really provoked by fear and fear often has its basis in the lack of understanding or belief or trust in the organizations giving information,” Magill says. “That fear leads to irrational actions which we are seeing in many areas across the country right now, not just with this meeting.”