Ebola fears: Airline contacts 800 passengers; country blocks travel
Take no chances. Leave no stone unturned. Fueled by Ebola fears, these common axioms are driving policy and action — at times to hefty measures.
This week, a Central American country closed its borders to anyone who has been anywhere near the disease. And an airline scrambled to inform hundreds passengers that they had been on a plane that carried someone who has since come down with Ebola.
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked the government of Belize to help evacuate a Dallas hospital worker from a cruise ship off its coast on Friday, officials declined to let her on shore.
The employee of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was a lab supervisor and did not have direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who died there while being treated for Ebola. But she may have had contact with one of his specimens, the U.S. State Department said.
A doctor on the Carnival cruise ship has declared her symptom-free and in good health. Still, the lab supervisor and a travel partner have undergone voluntary isolation as a precaution.
Belize slaps travel, visa bans
It’s been 20 days since she perhaps handled Duncan’s fluid samples — the maximum incubation period for Ebola is 21 days.
But as sure as it may seem that lab professional is Ebola free, the State Department wanted to fly her back to the United States — purely out of caution — from Belize City’s airport.
Instead, the cruise ship is hauling her back to Galveston.
On top of the no-go, Belize’s government has slapped visa and travel bans this week on citizens of affected West African countries and announced more strict measures.
“Also, any person of whatever nationality wishing to travel to Belize who has visited any affected area of West Africa within the last 30 days will be prohibited from entering Belize,” the government said in a statement on Friday.
Cruise ship passengers will be vetted before being allowed to go on land.
Leave no stone unturned is the approach Frontier Airlines is taking, after a passenger came down with Ebola. It is telling up to 800 passengers to contact the CDC.
Most of them weren’t on flights with Amber Vinson, the second Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola after helping treat Duncan.
Vinson flew to Cleveland on October 10 and back to Dallas on October 13.
The CDC said she could have had symptoms during that time.
On Saturday, Dr. Mary DiOrio, state epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health, told reporters that 87 state residents in the flights were self-monitoring for symptoms of Ebola.
The CDC would like people who were on either flight to get in touch with them to answer some questions and potentially undergo monitoring, although it says the risk to anyone was extremely low.
But Frontier, as an extra precaution, included anyone who had been on subsequent flights that used the same plane as the one on her return flight.
Frontier has also taken that plane out of service.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich went so far on Saturday as calling for a travel ban for countries affected by the deadly Ebola outbreak.
No Ohio airport currently has direct flights to or from the affected nations in West Africa.
“I would say I think it makes sense to have (a) ban in place,” he told reporters. “The President of the United States has to make that call. He has to listen to many different people. And I have no doubt in my mind they’re considering this now.”
Vinson was admitted to the Dallas hospital on Tuesday, one day after her return flight from Ohio, then flown to the isolation unit of Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, where her uncle said she is “feeling OK.”
The hospital treated Americans Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, and is also caring for an unnamed person with Ebola who went there on September 9.
Vinson had been visiting family and planning her wedding in Ohio.
Ohio health officials Saturday increased the number of people being monitored from 16 to 29. These people were in the vicinity of Vinson or had contact with her. They include people who were in a bridal shop she visited. One of them was a “close contact” and is under quarantine, according to DiOrio. All are healthy.
“There is no Ebola in Summit County,” said Gene Nixon, Summit County public health commissioner. “As far as I know, there is no Ebola in Ohio.”
About 50 people associated with Texas Health Presbyterian have signed a document legally restricting where they can go and what they can do until they are cleared of Ebola, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.
They’ll be placed on a “Do Not Board list” that would prohibit them from flying commercially.
Nurse says gear was inadequate
Another Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurse has spoken out, saying the hospital didn’t give her proper gear, even more than a week into the Ebola response there.
Briana Aguirre cared for one day for Nina Pham, who contracted Ebola after working on Duncan’s treatment. She said her gear left her neck exposed between the suit zipper and her hood.
“I just told them, ‘Why would an area so close to my mouth and my nose … be exposed?'” Aguirre said. “And they didn’t have an answer.”
The hospital has said its professionals have worn equipment consistent with CDC guidelines.
Dr. Gary Weinstein, the doctor who treated Duncan and other Ebola patients, said team members were given the protective gear they asked for, CNN affiliate WFAA reported.
“What we asked for, we got,” he told the station. “We had complete support… I think we’re learning about this. This is the first time in this country that a patient with Ebola has presented to an emergency room to be diagnosed.”
Asked about allegations that arose after Duncan’s death, that he didn’t receive the best care because he lacked health insurance or because of his race, Weinstein became emotional.
“I find that remarkably insulting,” he told WFAA. I don’t know how better to describe that. The team here worked their tails off trying to save his life. … He was too sick.”
Like Writebol and Brantly, at least two in the current group of Ebola patients in the United States seem to be recovering. So is a health care worker in treatment in Spain, whose recent blood tests have returned only very low levels of the virus.
In Maryland, Pham is talking freely with her care givers and eating.
“We fully intend to have this patient walk out of this hospital,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
Another Ebola patient, freelance NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, who was flown to Nebraska for treatment after contracting Ebola in West Africa, is improving by the day.
A months-long Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reportedly infected 9,200 people, killing 4,555 of them, according to the World Health Organization. Experts have warned that the numbers will climb exponentially, if the international response is not shored up.
On Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called on the European Union to invest one billion Euros ($1.3 billion) and send 2,000 aid workers to fight it.
The United States has seen only a handful of cases, and only one patient, Duncan, has died.
Still, fears of an outbreak in the United States led President Barack Obama to appoint an “Ebola czar.” Ron Klain is a former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore.
He will drive the response of the country’s government agencies to Ebola.