Ebola –– That mysterious African disease that had never been detected in the United States until a couple of months ago and never diagnosed on U.S. soil until earlier last month. It’s the recent culprit responsible for bursting America’s bubble of relative security, protecting its inhabitants from exotic, life-ravaging illnesses. The fresh memory of the death in Dallas and the not-so-distant scare in Belton has Central Texans wondering what their schools, workplaces and government are doing to protect them.
Although the virus is communicable and has been posing a threat from Texas to New York, according to the Centers for Disease Control, it is not airborne and is difficult to transmit unless a person comes in direct contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids or a surface that has.
However reassuring this news may sound, many are still paranoid considering that trained medical professionals are still contracting the disease.
Something else feeding the uncertainty and fear is the virus’ 21-day incubation period. People who have come in contact with the disease may not exhibit symptoms for three weeks. This is the reason for quarantine among medical professionals, missionaries and others who have traveled to West Africa are imposing on themselves.
Senior nursing major Kristiana Bohene believes it’s necessary for those working with Ebola patients to think of the common good and quarantine themselves during that incubation period.
“If they were potentially exposed to Ebola, they should be quarantined until they are not showing symptoms. The quarantine of one can be good for all to prevent the further spread of illness,” she said.
A potentially disturbing precedent is the refusal of Maine nurse Hickox to self-quarantine.
Bohene said, “I can’t imagine being in her shoes, but I do think that sacrificing 21 days for the good of others is the right thing to do if she is showing symptoms.”
The state of Maine is working to bring her into compliance.
After the CDC began re-evaluating the health risk to passengers on the Frontier Airlines Flight #1143, from Cleveland, Ohio, to Dallas, Texas, it was discovered that two Belton ISD students, one from North Belton Middle School and one from Sparta Elementary, along with their family, were traveling on the same plane with one of the nurses who cared for Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who died at Texas Health Presbyterian.
School district officials cancelled classes for thorough cleaning at those two campuses as well as Belton Early Childhood School because students are bussed between that building and Sparta Elementary.
Many are expressing frustration with the federal government’s seemingly slow response to address their concerns. “I’m frustrated that we didn’t learn until late tonight that the CDC was re-evaluating the health risk. The health and safety of our students is my first priority,” Belton ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon wrote in a letter to parents.
While people are concerned about the global problem’s local threat, some refuse to give into the fear and are not as concerned.
Dr. David Chrisman, professor and chair of UMHB’s history and political science department, has children who attend Sparta elementary. He doesn’t believe the school district’s action was completely necessary, but he understands why many parents and school officials were afraid.
“I was never concerned that an outbreak would take place in Belton,” he said. “The nurses and doctors that contracted Ebola worked with patients at the end of their lives when the virus is most dangerous. Significantly, the families, spouses and close friends of those sick have not come down with it.”
Chrisman is frustrated with people who are politicizing the issue.
“I do think the political accusations of Ebola are ridiculous, having heard several times that this is all President Obama’s fault or the CDC’s. Like any other public policy response –– immigration, terrorist alerts, mass shooting, and so forth, there’s always some learning by trial and error,” Chrisman said.
Dr. Steve Theodore, UMHB Senior Vice President for Administration, released a statement saying, “We know that people are concerned throughout our nation about Ebola and we want to assure you that UMHB has protocols in place to assess and respond if necessary to situations that may impact our campus community. Although local health officials remain confident that imminent risk is low, we have reviewed our response protocols and will continue to stay in touch with local health officials. Please continue to pray for those being directly affected by this virus.”