Dallas officials fear panic as release date for people in contact with dead Ebola patient nears
Texas officials are still working to contain the public’s fear of Ebola even as dozens of people who may have had contact with a Liberian man who died from the virus are soon expected to be released from a 21-day monitoring period.
There have been no new cases since two nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan contracted Ebola. But one traveled on a plane shortly before her diagnosis, sparking worry that fellow airline passengers could be infected.
In response, wary education officials deep-cleaned schools this weekend in seven north Texas school districts with links to the nurse’s flights. On Saturday, Dallas transit officials temporarily closed a rail station for cleaning after a woman who was initially believed to be on the Ebola monitoring list fell ill at the station.
Local television footage showed the woman, who officials later said was not being monitored for Ebola, being escorted to an ambulance dressed in a bright yellow hazmat suit, wearing a full face mask.
“I think the community here has been outstanding,” Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s top official told reporters on Saturday, adding that there are “always a few” who panic.
Jenkins, who has moved his office to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Duncan was treated and where nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson were infected, said his command receives several calls an hour from people think they have been exposed to the virus or have Ebola.
At midnight on Sunday, some 48 people who had possible contact with Duncan will no longer require monitoring for signs of the virus. There are still 75 health workers in Dallas who have isolated themselves and are being monitored for Ebola.
“This is a critical weekend,” Jenkins told reporters. If there are no new patients Dallas is “going to be statistically less likely” to see new cases.
In response to queries about whether the city was safe for meetings and conventions, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings recorded a video message on www.visitdallas.com to assure potential visitors that there was no risk of contagion.
“First of all, Dallas is safe,” said Rawlings.
Tom Suzanez, a resident of Detroit who traveled to Dallas on Friday for a convention said he had serious reservations about making the trip.
“There’s got to be others who are infected out there,” said Suzanez. “The mistakes have been made and I hope everyone learned from it.”
(By Anna Driver; Editing by Frank McGurty)