Schools Close as Nurse’s Ebola Infection Ignites Concern

Some schools in Ohio and Texas were closed today after students’ potential exposure to a nurse with Ebola furthered fears of the disease spreading.

Three schools in Belton, Texas, were closed yesterday and will remain closed today after Superintendent Susan Kincannon learned that two students, who attend North Belton Middle School and Sparta Elementary, were on the Frontier Airlines flight that carried Amber Vinson, a health worker infected with Ebola.

Vinson, a nurse who helped care for Dallas’s first patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, flew earlier this week from Cleveland to Dallas the night before she went to the hospital with a fever. Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said while risk of infection is low, the 132 passengers on the flight were asked to monitor their health.

At the same time, officials tried to quell anxiety about the disease, as Dallas County Commissioners decided not to declare a local state of emergency that would have authorized travel restrictions.

“We just need to save that tool in our tool box,” Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s top executive, said yesterday at a county board meeting.

Belton Early Childhood School, a pre-kindergarten school, was also closed because students move through Sparta Elementary at the beginning and end of the school day, Kincannon said in a statement. The schools will open again on Oct. 20, according to spokeswoman Sandy Slade.

School Cleaning

“Canceling classes at the three campuses will allow us to thoroughly clean and disinfect the schools and buses that served them this week,” Kincannon wrote.

In Akron, Ohio, officials closed a 470-student school until Oct. 20 after learning that a parent of one of the students had been in contact with Vinson when she visited the area over the weekend, according to a letter sent to parents.

“Her child did not have contact with Ms. Vinson but has been quarantined as a precaution, with the mother and is being monitored by the health department,” Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James wrote in the letter to parents.

Closing schools as a precaution because a parent may have come into contact with a nurse who later tested positive for Ebola seems “a little bit overboard,” said Peter Alperin, a doctor who works in the emergency room at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“It’s an extra precaution, sure,” Alperin said by telephone. “I understand why people would be nervous about this, but that seems a little bit unnecessary.”

No Threat

Parents who were on the flight and may have been exposed to Vinson have so far posed no threat to their children, said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“You’ve got a parent who is still in the early stages of the infection period,” Hotez said. “There is no risk that the parent is going to transmit that virus to the child.”

While Dallas officials didn’t declare a state of emergency, they asked the workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who cared for Duncan to avoid public transportation and public areas and to self-monitor their conditions for 21 days from their last possible exposure. Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., was admitted to the hospital Sept. 28 and died Oct. 8.

The agreements say that if they don’t comply, they would be “subject to a control order,” Jenkins said. He declined to specify the legal action the county could take if the workers don’t voluntarily agree to the agreements.

Changing Hospitals

The employees haven’t been working, except for those who volunteered to help treat the two nurses diagnosed with Ebola, he said. Vinson was moved to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and the first infected nurse, Nina Pham was transferred to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo designated eight hospitals in the state to treat potential Ebola patients. He also said state officials would carry out unannounced drills at hospitals, health-care facilities, college campuses and subway and mass transit areas to prepare workers to cope with the virus.

The Port Authority has positioned ambulance crews outside of each of its three airports and is working with U.S. Customs officials to monitor passengers who arrive from the West Africa nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone where the Ebola outbreak has been centered, said Pat Foye, the agency’s executive director, at a briefing today.

Foye said New York doesn’t receive any direct flights from the countries where Ebola is raging. Instead, most of those passengers are flying in from Brussels and Paris, he said.

‘Up to Speed’

“We’re trying to train the entire system, get the entire system up to speed, but we’re also developing specialized capacity where we can,” Cuomo said. “We want caution, but we also want to keep perspective.”

The virus has infected about 9,000 people, killing almost 4,500, primarily in the three West African countries, the World Health Organization reported. The number of new cases in the the countries may jump to 5,000 to 10,000 a week by Dec. 1, the WHO said.

There’s no cure for Ebola, which jumps to humans from animals such as fruit bats and chimpanzees. The virus spreads from contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and feces, putting health-care workers at greater risk.

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