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Public Health Officials Silent On Possible Connection Between Measles Outbreak and Resettled Refugees

Public health officials in the Shelby County Health Department, the Tennessee Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) seem reluctant to pursue a possible connection between a recent outbreak of measles in Memphis and the refugee resettlement program.

As Breitbart News reported previously, the first known instance of a person infected with measles present at a public location while infectious occurred at the Masjid Al-Noor Mosque in Memphis on the morning of April 15.

Subsequent reports indicate this individual was not vaccinated. The Shelby County Health Department said the first six cases of measles reported were of unvaccinated patients. There are seven confirmed cases so far.

The Tennessee Department of Health has also confirmed, indirectly, that this first individual was part of a cluster of patients associated with the mosque. That cluster may include two, three or four people.

“We have identified three separate clusters of cases involving a total of seven people; in two of those clusters of cases, the patients have no association with the Mosque,” Woody McMillin, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Health, tells Breitbart News.

McMillin, however, was unable to answer this critical follow up question posed by Breitbart News:

Can you confirm or deny that the individual who was at the Masjid Al-Noor Mosque on April 15, 2016 who was infected with measles at that time originally entered the U.S. at some time prior to April 15, 2016 through the federal refugee resettlement program administered in Tennessee by Catholic Charities?

“I do not have that level of information about any of the cases,” McMillin tells Breitbart News.

“You may contact Shelby County Health Department. . .The contact tracing work is headquartered in SCHD offices in Memphis,” McMillin adds.

The Shelby County Health Department has not responded to Breitbart’s inquiries on this issue.

Members of the Tennessee State Legislature, a member of the Tennessee Congressional delegation, and a Congressional challenger expressed concerns with the responses from local, state, and federal agencies concerning the measles outbreak in Memphis.

“I have been in contact with the Tennessee Department of Health and other agencies concerning the genesis and acuity of the Memphis measles outbreak. The information I have received has been expedient and I have no reason to believe anything but factual,” State Rep Judd Matheny tells Breitbart News.

“What I do see lacking, however, is no one can yet convince me the origin was not directly or indirectly related to the Federal Refugee Resettlement program,” (emphasis added) Matheny says.

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver also has concerns about the recent measles outbreak in Memphis.
“Given that Tennessee does in fact have a Refugee Resettlement Health Coordinator and resources from grant monies to screen refugees, it raises the question what do they do with that money in order to protect citizens of Tennessee from the likes of Measles, TB, Hepatitis, HIV, etc,” Weaver tells Breitbart News.

“Other states such as Utah, Texas and Arizona already maintain a very specific and thorough gathering of refugee health data. Why not Tennessee?” Weaver asks.

“It is sad indeed that it takes a law to be introduced in order to prevent our state from health epidemics brought by illegal immigrants and refugees,” she adds.

“The more information I glean concerning the Office of Refugee Resettlement brings me great pause. I intend to look more into the mechanics of states who already make it their duty to keep its citizens safe,” Weaver notes.

Breitbart News asked the four members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation who represent the cities of Memphis and Nashville, where more 75 percent of the 1,601 refugees who entered the state in 2015 , if they will vote against any Fiscal Year 2017 budget that includes continued funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which the Obama administration wants to increase to $2 billion annually from $1 billion in FY 2016.

“As a registered nurse, the lack of immunization requirements for refugees entering the United States is deeply troubling to me. For months now, I have called on the federal government to halt our refugee resettlement program in its entirety and voted against last December’s omnibus bill because it failed to make these needed reforms, while also punting on major pro-life concerns,” Rep. Diane Black who represents the 6th District, which includes parts of suburban Nashville, tells Breitbart News.

“As we look ahead to this year’s funding bills, I am proud to have signed a letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking that the Fiscal Year 2017 Homeland Security appropriations bill force tighter controls on our refugee resettlement program. Open borders and unverified refugees from radical Islamic hotspots are a threat to our national security, our public health, and our very way of life,” Rep. Diane Black adds.

Rep. Steve Cohen who represents Memphis, Rep. Jim Cooper, who represents Nashville, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who represents part of suburban Nashville, have not yet responded.

But former State Rep. Joe Carr, who is challenging Black in the Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District this August did respond to our inquiries.

“The Office of Refugee Resettlement is but one of many federal departments that not only needs to be completely defunded but abolished. As with the illegal immigration problem, Congress has repeatedly reauthorized and expanded President Obama’s initiative to bring Muslim Refugees from radicalized Islamic countries into Tennessee,” Carr tells Breitbart News.

We now find ourselves having to deal with a problem created a president and a congress that is more interested in political correctness than protecting America. I am sure that the answer coming from Washington will be the same; ‘that we need to study the issue’. The failure to protect Americans lives lies with all those Congressman who for so many years approved the President’s budget for programs like the Office of Refugee Resettlement only because they refused to shut down “non-essential services” of a bloated federal budget.

The Tennessee Department of Health was the only state, local, or federal agency that responded substantively to any of Breitbart’s inquiries.

When asked why state and local health officials have not taken the next obvious investigative step: to identify the immigration and vaccination status of the individual who was at the Masjid Al-Noor Mosque on April 15–most likely an adult Muslim– who was, if not the first person infected with measles, then was one of the first, Woody McMillin, Director of Communications for the Tennessee Department of Health, offered this response:

This is incorrect. Upon identification of the first two confirmed cases of measles in Shelby County, which occurred simultaneously, the Shelby County Health Department and the Tennessee Department of Health immediately launched contact tracing work to identify immunity status of everyone associated with those cases. Neither of the first two patients have any known connection to one another. We have identified three separate clusters of cases involving a total of seven people; in two of those clusters of cases, the patients have no association with the Mosque.

McMillin added:

At this time, no one knows the initial carrier of measles for the current outbreak in Tennessee so the supposition that person is a Muslim is just that – a supposition only. What we do know at this time is that it was not imported by any one of the confirmed cases we have seen thus far. All confirmed cases in the current Shelby County outbreak acquired measles locally; none of them acquired it outside the U.S. and brought it here.

We know this due to an investigation of travel histories and a medical understanding of how long a person is communicable after they are infected. Again, Memphis hosts millions of tourists from around the world, and anyone of those travelers could have been the index case in this outbreak.

McMillin also referred these 2 questions to the ORR and CDC:

  1. Why aren’t the vaccinations for measles and other contagious diseases simply required prior to resettlement of refugees in the United States?
  2. Why should anyone be permitted to resettle who doesn’t agree to all medical screening including for other public health issues of other communicable diseases like HIV?

Spokespersons for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Centers for Disease Control acknowledged receipt of our questions, but did not respond.

McMillin referred this question to the Tennessee Office of Refugees, which is part of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the VOLAG hired by ORR to resettle refugees in Tennessee under the Wilson-Fish alternative program

Why is there no refugee health data collection in Tennessee as there is in other states that would tell us how many don’t get screened, what the TB rate is, HIV incidence, etc.

Breitbart News contacted Holly Johnson and Michael Evans, executive Director and health director respectively, the Tennessee Office of Refugees for a response.

“Michael and I are out of town and won’t be able to respond until tomorrow afternoon. We’d love to comment, but won’t be able to make your deadline today,” Johnson tells Breitbart News in an emailed response.

On April 28, less than a week after the measles outbreak was made public, Evans told Breitbart News that the Tennessee Office of Refugees had not been contacted by the Shelby County Health Department.

Here’s a timeline of what we know about how the measles outbreak in Memphis spread:

Friday, April 15

The first two public exposures from a person known to have been infectious (but apparently not yet diagnosed) took place at the Masjid Al-Noor Mosque on April 15 from 5:30 am to 8:30 am, the same time “Adult Quran Classes” are offered at this location. (Another exposure took place at the same location at the same time of day on April 16).
Sunday, April 17

An adult woman, infectious but not yet diagnosed with measles, shopped at the Goodwill store in Millington, Tennessee on Sunday April 17 between 9 am and noon.

This adult woman, who chose not to be vaccinated, was connected to either an additional 1 case or 3 additional cases, according to subsequent information released by the Shelby County Department of Health.

Tuesday, April 19

A sick child was treated at River City Pediatrics, less than 2 miles from the mosque, not yet displaying symptoms of measles. Several days later River City Pediatrics received a call from the mother of the child, explaining the child had been diagnosed with measles by the Shelby County Health Department.

Another patient is treated at the Yukon Clinic in Memphis, less than 2 miles from the mosque who would later be reported as having measles. It is unknown if this individual was confirmed as having the disease at the time of initial treatment

Wednesday, April 20

A patient was treated at the Family Physicians Group, a clinic primarily for adults rather than children, located less than 2 miles from the mosque, from 10 am to 2 pm. This patient was at some point diagnosed with measles, but it is unclear if the diagnosis was known at the time of initial treatment.

At 7 pm, an individual arrived in the Emergency Department of the Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital, less than 2 miles from the mosque, and was treated for symptoms that were later confirmed to be measles.

This individual was not released until 3 am the following morning, Thursday April 21.

It is this patient that was likely the first individual diagnosed with measles. The Emergency Department likely provided (a blood sample) of the patient to the Shelby County Health Department, who in turn sent it to the CDC lab to be tested for measles.

Friday, April 22

Early Friday morning, or possibly late Thursday, the Shelby County Health Department receives a confirmation from the CDC that the blood sample from the patient treated at the ED of Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital tested positive for measles.

Around 10 am, the Shelby County Department of Health reports the first two confirmed cases of measles: 1 is an adult, 1 is a child.

Monday, April 25

Shelby County Department of Health reports an additional four confirmed cases of measles, bringing the total confirmed cases to six.

Friday, May 6

Shelby County Department of Health reports one additional confirmed case of measles, bringing the total confirmed cases to seven.

In April, the Tennessee General Assembly declared its intention to sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds over the operation its operation of the refugee resettlement program in the Volunteer State under the statutorily questionable Wilson-Fish alternative program.

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