Elise Viebeck, The Hill, October 1, 2014
Fears are rising about the spread of Ebola in Texas after health officials revealed an infected patient had come into contact with nearly 20 people over the weekend.
Health officials said they are working to track down every person who came in contact with the patient, who has been identified in multiple media reports as Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia. He remains in serious condition at a Dallas hospital.
Government officials from Dallas to the White House sought to maintain calm Wednesday, assuring the public that the virus is not easily transmitted and will be contained.
The chances of an Ebola epidemic in the United States are “incredibly low,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “The reason for that is that it is not possible to transmit Ebola through the air. . . . The only way that an individual can contract Ebola is by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is exhibiting symptoms.”
The assurances from the administration weren’t enough for some Dallas residents, who began pulling their children from school.
Earnest said the administration was not planning travel restrictions or additional airport screenings to prevent the spread of the virus.
A bevy of new details were revealed Wednesday about Duncan, his travel from Liberia and his care in the United States.
The delivery driver is in his mid-40s and lives in Monrovia; he was sharing a home with a pregnant woman who was sick with Ebola, The New York Times reported. He apparently helped her travel to the hospital four days before his flight.
Duncan was not exhibiting symptoms at the time of his travel, and officials insisted he could not have infected fellow passengers. He came through Brussels en route to Dallas, a detail revealed Wednesday by a Canadian health official.
As information is slowly released, officials have been seeking to tamp down fears that Duncan’s case could cause an outbreak.
The government has neither confirmed Duncan’s identity nor revealed his flight information, maintaining that none of the other passengers on his flight could have been infected.
“Ebola is a serious disease. . . . It is a severe disease which has a high-case fatality rate,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden on Tuesday when announcing the infection to the nation.
“Still, there are core, tried-and-true public health interventions that can stop it.”