A Dallas apartment where the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States had stayed is finally getting a thorough cleaning, days after the diagnosis left four people quarantined there with soiled towels and sweat-stained sheets from the Ebola patient.
After some delays, the first of three phases in cleaning the apartment began Friday afternoon. By around 5:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m. ET), the effort was continuing but at least the sheets and towels had been moved out. Crews also worked to remove three mattresses, each of which the Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan slept on, city of Dallas spokeswoman Sana Syed said.
And so, too, had the four people — the partner of the Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, her 13-year-old son and her two 20-something nephews — who had been ordered to stay inside the apartment until October 19. By that point, enough time should have passed to determine if any of them contracted Ebola or if they’re in the clear.
Syed, the city spokeswoman, told reporters Friday evening that the four had been transported to a private home in Dallas County, a move that County Fire Marshal Robert De Los Santos had hinted was coming.
It made for a busy day for the quartet, who until then had gotten little more than brief stops from a health official only to be visited by a fully outfitted hazardous materials team. Photos tweeted by Syed showed people wearing masks, boots and yellow hazmat suits. A large tarp was laid out, and several oil-drum like containers were on site.
Some have criticized the fact that it took so long to start the process, given that health officials announced three days ago that Duncan had Ebola. At that time, four people Duncan had stayed with in the Texas city were ordered not to leave the apartment because of possible lingering effects of Duncan, from his clothes to toilets to silverware.
Additionally, the Dallas hospital where Duncan is being treated has come under fire for how it handled his first visit there eight days ago.
Duncan’s partner, identified only as Louise, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that hospital medical staff were twice told that Duncan, who was suffering with fever and abdominal pain, had recently arrived from West Africa — key information that could have been a tipoff for Ebola, yet was never properly relayed. Instead, he was released with an antibiotic only to come back by ambulance even sicker on Sunday.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged to reporters Friday that “there were missteps” in Dallas as to how Duncan’s case was initially treated. But he also insisted that “there were a lot of things that went right and are going right.”
And Fauci stressed that, while there may be a case here and there, what’s happened with Ebola in West Africa — where more than 3,400 people have died and public health infrastructures have become overwhelmed — won’t happen in the United States.
“Our health care infrastructure in the United States is well-equipped to stop Ebola in its tracks,” Fauci said.
Official: 50 being monitored
Until this week, Ebola’s impact on the United States has been confined to preemptive measures at airports and elsewhere to stop its spread, the deployment of U.S. military and other resources to West Africa to help corral the outbreak there, and the treatment of a select few Americans who contacted the virus in Africa and were flown back home to get well.
But Duncan changed all that.
He landed in Dallas on September 20, started feeling sick days later, then made his initial visit to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital late on September 25. He went back three days later and was quickly isolated, with a blood test confirmed he had Ebola on Tuesday.
Duncan remained Friday in isolation, in serious condition, at Texas Health Presbyterian.
No one he’d come in contact with has showing symptoms of Ebola, though officials were watching them — 50 people in all — just in case.
These 50 are people Duncan came in contact with while he was contagious. Monitoring means a public health worker visits the contacts twice a day to take temperatures and to ask if they are experiencing any symptoms.
Dr. Beth Bell of the CDC said officials are casting a wide net. “We have a low level of concern about the vast majority of these people that we’re following,” she said.
Three of the people being monitored may be Dallas County sheriff’s deputies put on leave after helping deliver court orders to the four family members, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carmen Castro said Friday. Castro says the deputies’ leave is precautionary for their peace of mind.
On Friday, Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zachary Thompson told CNN’s “New Day” that the Ebola situation in the city is “under control.”
“It is contained,” Thompson said. The Ebola patient’s “family is being monitored. There is no outbreak. And so therefore everyone should ease their fears and allow public health officials … to respond to this issue.”
Did he lie to come to the United States?
Meanwhile, questions continue to swirl about Duncan.
Liberia Airport Authority officials say they may prosecute him if he lied on his health screening questionnaire before leaving for the United States.
Duncan answered no to questions on a travel form about whether he was exposed to the deadly virus, said Binyah Kesselly of the Liberia Airport Authority. Yet Duncan had been helping Ebola patients, including caring for one at a residence outside the capital of Monrovia, Liberian community leader Tugbeh Chieh Tugbeh told CNN.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Canadian public broadcaster CBC that she would consult with lawyers to decide what to do with Duncan when he returns home.
“The fact that he knew (he was exposed to the virus) and he left the country is unpardonable, quite frankly,” Johnson Sirleaf said.
“With the U.S. doing so much to help us fight Ebola, and again one of our compatriots didn’t take due care, and so, he’s gone there and … put some Americans in a state of fear, and put them at some risk, and so I feel very saddened by that and very angry with him, to tell you the truth.”
Duncan was screened three times before he boarded his flight in Liberia bound for Brussels, the Liberia Airport Authority says. His temperature was a consistent 97.3 degrees Fahrenheit, said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.
Ebola in spotlight elsewhere in U.S.
Duncan isn’t the only person being talked about in the United States with real or possible Ebola.
Howard University Hospital in Washington has admitted a low-risk patient with symptoms “that could be associated with Ebola,” hospital spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton said Friday. The patient, who was not named, recently traveled to Nigeria and presented with the symptoms upon his or her return, she said. The patient is in stable condition.
“In an abundance of caution, we have activated the appropriate infection control protocols, including isolating the patient,” Hamilton said. “Our medical team continues to evaluate and monitor progress in close collaboration with the CDC and the Department of Health.”
Officials in Georgia also said they isolated a man with flu-like symptoms who’d recently been in Africa shortly after his arrest early Friday morning on drunken driving and traffic charges.
Later in the day, Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, said that the man “was never exposed to people.” Furthermore, she added that — while officials were still waiting for the definitive test to come in — “so far absolutely all of his labwork is negative and normal.”
“We have no reason to believe that he has Ebola,” Fitzgerald said.
But there is one American confirmed with the virus: Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman for NBC News who was diagnosed in Monrovia on Thursday
Dr. Mitchell Levy said his son, Mukpo, remembers getting some fluid in his face while helping to disinfect a chair inside a clinic where he was filming.
Mukpo, 33, a freelance cameraman for NBC News, started feeling achy and tired Wednesday, and he quarantined himself. A day later, a test at a Doctors Without Borders facility in Monrovia confirmed that he had Ebola. NBC News has said the entire team will return to the U.S. soon aboard a private charter plane.
Levy said that his son will be heading to Nebraska Medical Center, which is the same facility where Dr. Rick Sacra was recently treated.
Official: U.S. focusing on ‘source countries’
As intense as the media attention has been in the United States, the issues here are nothing compared to what’s unfolding in West Africa.
Ebola is spread through infected bodily fluids. But the Ebola sufferer doesn’t have to be there, or even alive, to spread the disease: Dr. Sanjay Gupta notes that it can live on in the environment from hours to days, making it possible for someone to contract the disease from touching such materials.
U.S. officials, like Fauci, insisted Friday that this country has the policies and infrastructure in place to deal with the virus.
But it’s a different story in West Africa, where the virus continues to spread through the living and the dead and where health facilities have often been unable to keep up with the outbreak.
The U.S. government has been involved in trying to help countries like Liberia, with more help possibly on its way.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday that the U.S. military could send as many as 4,000 troops to the Ebola-afflicted countries. About 200 U.S. troops are there now, and Washington had previously committed to sending 3,000 troops.
The U.S. troops will not treat patients, but will help establish health facilities and medical treatment units “so that the health care workers can do their jobs,” Kirby said.
Paying attention to West Africa, whether it’s getting Ebola patients well there or doing things to prevent infected people from leaving the country, is a national security priority for the United States, said Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.
Monaco said Friday: “We are taking steps to address the source, the people coming from the source counties and we think those are the most effective steps we can take.”