Dallas officials ordered the family that came in contact with Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan to remain at home Thursday as the possible contact count grew to 100.
The family, in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood of northeast Dallas, was placed under a public control order, and a police officer was stationed outside the Ivy Apartments to enforce it.
“We didn’t have the confidence we would be able to monitor them the way we needed to,” David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a telephone news conference Thursday. He declined to elaborate on why, but Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said they were “noncompliant with the request to stay home.”
Duncan, the first Ebola victim diagnosed in the U.S., was taken by ambulance to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on Sunday and remained in isolation and in serious condition Thursday. He has a phone and has been calling relatives.
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Liberia plans to prosecute Duncan for allegedly lying on a form about not having any contact with an infected person, authorities told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The AP reported that he answered a series of questions at the airport about his health and activities in the weeks before his flight. On a Sept. 19 form obtained by the AP, he answered “no” to all of them.
Among other questions, the form asked whether Duncan had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of anyone who had died in an area affected by Ebola.
“We expect people to do the honorable thing,” said Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the board of directors of the Liberia Airport Authority.
Neighbors in the Liberian capital of Monrovia believe that Duncan became infected when he helped bundle a sick pregnant neighbor into a taxi a few weeks ago and set off with her to find treatment, multiple news outlets have reported.
The 19-year-old woman was convulsing and complaining of stomach pain, and everyone thought her problems were related to her pregnancy, in its seventh month. No ambulance would come for her, and the group that put her in a taxi never did find a hospital. She died, and in the ensuing weeks, all the neighbors who helped have fallen ill or died, neighbors said.
Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said Duncan did not have a fever when he was tested before boarding the flight in Liberia. His temperature was 97.3 degrees, and he began having symptoms four or five days after arriving in the United States.
On Thursday afternoon, aboard Air Force One, President Barack Obama called Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to discuss the local, state, and federal response to the Ebola case and to make sure Rawlings is getting the federal resources he needs to treat Duncan safely.
The number of possible contacts in Dallas since Duncan arrived grew from 18 to 20 on Wednesday to about 100 on Thursday, state health officials said.
“We are working from a list of about 100 potential or possible contacts and will soon have an official contact tracing number that will be lower,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’re starting with this very wide net, including people who have had even brief encounters with the patient or the patient’s home.”
The control order came Wednesday night after state officials became concerned about their ability to keep track of the four people at the apartment where Duncan stayed.
The order was hand-delivered to the family members, according to a statement from State Health Services, and requires “the family to be available to provide blood samples and agree to any testing required by public health officials and to immediately report any symptoms to Dallas County Health and Human Services.”
Texas law allows state and local health authorities to issue control orders to anyone who is “ill with, has been exposed to, or is the carrier of a communicable disease,” the statement says. The orders can include isolation, preventive therapy and quarantine, and they can be enforced by the courts. Failure to follow them can result in criminal charges, the statement says.
The family is legally required to stay home and have no visitors without approval from local or state health officials until at least Oct. 19, the statement says.
A company will clean the apartment and make sure the family has food. County officials acknowledged that some companies were hesitant to clean the residence.
“Our understanding is there is a garbage bag of the man’s clothing and belongings and some household trash and the mattresses have been pushed against the wall,” said Jenkins, the county judge. “The trash would consist of the sheets he slept on.”
The woman in the apartment where Duncan stayed said she’s tired of being “locked up.”
Louise Troh told The Associated Press that she is “going through stress” being quarantined with her 13-year-old son and nephews. Troh said she thought she was beyond the grasp of the disease that’s stricken her native Liberia.
The family members are showing no symptoms and are being checked twice daily for fever.
Officials have not confirmed the patient’s address, but the city website says a City Council member met with the manager at the Ivy Apartments in northeast Dallas to “help allay fears in the surrounding areas.”
School attendance down
At a news conference Thursday, Dallas school district Superintendent Mike Miles said attendance at the four schools attended by five children who had contact with Duncan was about 86 percent Thursday. The district average, he said, was 95 to 96 percent.
“We have additional nurses and health professionals on staff today,” Miles said. “Our nurses are making two rounds during the school day to every classroom.”
He also said the students under the control order are taking part in the district’s homebound program so they can continue their education. Miles said the attendance rate of teachers at the schools was “down a little bit” but still strong.
Parents rushed to get their children from school Wednesday after learning that five students may have had contact with Duncan.
Miles said none of the students had symptoms. Ebola victims are not contagious until they develop symptoms.
New case reported
Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 7,100 people in West Africa and killed more than 3,300, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia is one of the three countries hit hardest in the epidemic, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Ebola symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding, and can appear as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus. The disease is not contagious until symptoms begin. It spreads only by close contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.
NBC News reported late Thursday that another American has tested positive for Ebola — a freelance cameraman who was working for the network in Liberia. The infected freelancer showed symptoms Wednesday and quarantined himself and sought medical advice and will be flown back to the U.S. for treatment, NBC reported.
The journalist is the fourth known case of an American testing positive for the disease.
Staff writers Andrea Ahles, Monica S. Nagy, Susan Schrock and Judy Wiley contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram Washington Bureau.