North Texas expects to be cleared of the Ebola virus Friday, leaving Dallas and the nation better prepared for future encounters with the highly contagious and often lethal disease.
The last person being monitored in Dallas is expected to be cleared Friday — 15 were released Thursday from twice-daily temperature checks.
“We never had an Ebola case anywhere in the U.S., and we all have learned a great deal,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Thursday in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “We have an instant command model for Ebola that can be used whenever it happens again in the U.S.”
Since Sept. 30 — the day Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas — two nurses survived the virus, 177 people were monitored, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed important guidelines, and Dallas was chosen as the site of a biocontainment center.
The county had a “battle-tested” response for dealing with other viral ailments, such as AIDS, Jenkins said, but Ebola was different.
“What we found in this instance was that people were reluctant to clean, to haul, to accept the waste, because there was such a fear of Ebola,” Jenkins said.
Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. He had traveled in September from Liberia — where the virus has killed thousands — to marry the mother of his son.
The president of an area Liberian group said the end to monitoring is a relief for the community in North Texas.
“People are still blaming Liberians for the virus,” said Stanley Gaye, president of the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Jenkins said Duncan’s girlfriend, Louise Troh, and three of her relatives still have not found a permanent place to live. Duncan was staying with Troh when he became ill. The family members were taken in by the Catholic Conference and Formation Center during their monitoring period, which ended Oct. 19, because no one else wanted them.
“Louise is a wonderful person,” Jenkins said. “She would be a great addition to any community.” He said a corporation through a church is considering building a condo to help with the situation.
The last person monitored for symptoms is a healthcare worker who handled medical waste Oct. 17, according to a statement from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings could not be reached for comment. Presbyterian plans to release a statement early Friday.
The new CDC protocols, developed after Presbyterian Hospital nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson contracted the virus, are aimed at stopping the spread of the disease to healthcare workers, the group most likely to contract the virus.
No one has determined exactly how the two nurses got the virus. They said they followed protocols in place at the time.
The appearance of the virus on U.S. soil scared people across North Texas, even prompting parents to pull children from some Dallas schools. Presbyterian was left to repeatedly explain an initial misdiagnosis Sept. 24, when Duncan first went to the hospital.
Zachary Thompson, the head of Dallas County Health and Human Services, suggested Thursday in an interview that another employee may be needed to deal with Ebola and other viruses.
“We saw that this could be very taxing, really exhaust all your resources when you’re working on a confirmed Ebola case,” he said. “We’re seeing emerging diseases — Ebola, Chikungunya, West Nile, enterovirus. We’ll look at guidelines but also look at how to build our infrastructure to deal with them.”
A statement from the Texas Department of State Health Services says the CDC has identified about 50 people who returned to Texas from countries with Ebola outbreaks. One, a Central Texas nurse who cared for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, is considered at “some risk” of exposure to Ebola.
She has agreed to stay home until 21 days after her last possible exposure. The rest are considered low-risk, the statement says.
The incubation period for the virus is believed to be 21 days at most.
Another area Liberian, Elizabeth Tubman, said: “I am hoping the same news will come from the motherland. I am so happy nobody else got infected in Dallas. It’s a big relief.”
Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.