Helicopters Swirl as Dallas Residents Face Ebola's SpreadZain Shauk and Darrell Preston
Four men wearing white jumpsuits and gloves began decontaminating the apartment of the second Dallas nurse to test positive for Ebola this afternoon, setting out 15 blue barrels for her belongings and other materials.
The decontamination crew arrived amid the din of helicopters and an air of concern surrounding The Village, a four-block community where the nurse lives, consisting of 16 apartment complexes, tennis courts and pools. The noise of news aircraft and the sight of police in the neighborhood before sunrise startled residents.
“The first thing I thought about was Ebola,” said James Coltharp, as he walked his dogs in his neighborhood in the heart of the city, home to a second Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas worker who tested positive for the Ebola virus. “I’m just concerned that she worked out in the gym, or walked on the same path, or if she went in the pool,” he said. “Where am I going that she’s been?”
Coltharp is asking a question that others may face in coming days as 75 other workers being monitored because they cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., wait for any signs of symptoms of the disease, or an all clear. Nina Pham, a nurse who cared for Duncan, was the first person to contract the disease in the U.S., which led to a similar scene outside her apartment in a nearby neighborhood Oct. 12.
“It may get worse before it gets better,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, at a press conference this morning. “The only way we’re going to beat this is moment by moment, person by person, detail by detail.”
Officials said they will immediately begin reconstructing who the latest worker had contact with, as they have with the previous two patients diagnosed. Rawlings said the latest worker lived alone and had no pets.
The 75 remaining workers are monitoring themselves for possible symptoms.
“The system is working,” said Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s top elected official. “When any of the workers being monitored have any symptoms from headache to temperature, they’re put in isolation and monitored.”
Rawlings said he learned of the latest infection at 1 a.m. and immediately dispatched cleaning crews to the worker’s apartment to begin decontamination. A few hours later officials released the news and began notifying nearby residents.
Dallas fire and rescue crews were sent to the complex to decontaminate “doors, hallways, railings, anything that this patient could have come into contact with around her apartment,” said Dallas city spokeswoman Sana Syed, speaking with reporters in the neighborhood.
“We’re working to determine where all she might have gone that could potentially need decontamination, but at this point hospital officials have indicated that as soon as this health-care worker realized that she was running a temperature, arrangements were made where she was in the hospital fairly quickly,” Syed said.
City workers arrived at The Village today at 4 a.m. to alert the 330 residents. The city made reverse 911 calls and knocked on doors. Residents were told that there was “no ongoing danger to your health,” according to one of the fliers handed out to apartment dwellers. Village residents also got text messages at 7:59 a.m. from the apartment management telling them about the Ebola patient, who had already been evacuated.
The community has a large population of young professionals in their 20s and 30s, many of whom primarily use cell phones and were not registered to receive reverse 911 calls, Syed said.
“We knocked on every single door of this apartment complex,” she said. “We stressed that it was really important for them to understand what was happening so that they didn’t panic when they saw hazmat trucks and all of the people who will be out here throughout the day.”
The only other remaining place to be decontaminated was the patient’s car, which was at the hospital, Syed said.