Time has come to quarantine Dallas Presbyterian workers
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings speaks, calling Ebola a “scourge,” during a special vigil service Wednesday for those affected by the disease. (DMN Staff Photo)
Update at 3:30 p.m.: I may think a quarantine is necessary for the 75 health workers who have so far been Ebola-free, but the county — and apparently Mayor Rawlings — don’t. As we’ve just reported, Dallas County Commissioners this afternoon discarded the idea of issuing an emergency declaration, saying the 75 health workers “can be trusted to quarantine themselves.” The plan is to have them agreements to avoid public transportation and public places. Those agreements will be voluntarily signed.
Early indications seem to be that officials are concerned that an emergency order — which I believe is the only way to force the quarantine — would have negative repercussions for the city. I’m sure they have more facts to work from than I do. But seems a dicey move considering that Rawlings just said on CNN, “I’m planning that we may have another case or two of this.”
My original item:
I bet I’m speaking for many people when I say that I am horrified that the Centers for Disease Control cleared a nurse who had treated Thomas Eric Duncan to fly on a commercial jet this week — despite her noting that she had a slight fever. This is the same CDC that didn’t initially think hazmat suits were necessary for the staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital as they treated Duncan.
I’m beginning to weary of CDC patting us on the head and saying it knows best about Ebola. More important, some of our city’s leadership is feeling the same way.
Now the macabre “phone tree” of multiplying potential infection has moved outside Dallas County. Among the latest news is that Belton ISD in Central Texas has closed three campuses because two of its students were on the Frontier flight with Presby nurse Amber Vinson, who has since been diagnosed with Ebola.
We’re all trying to maintain our perspective. And we can stipulate that everyone — even the medical community — is learning as we go on this tragedy. But as more reports emerge of questionable decision-making, both at Presbyterian Hospital (per this story, based on nurses’ accounts; here’s the hospital response) and the CDC, I think the time is well past to err on the side of over-caution.
That’s why I’d like to see Dallas County quarantine all the Presby health care workers who had access to Duncan. Actually, I came to this point yesterday but held off writing because I thought the quarantine was actually about to be announced. But apparently there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes push-back.
As the DMN reported this morning, the county will hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss declaring a local emergency. My understanding is that some commissioners would like to see a quarantine. But that’s not a unanimous point of view.
I’m all for civil liberties and such. But the county was willing to serve a quarantine notice on Thomas Eric Duncan’s family. And now that we know gaps clearly existed in safety precautions during Duncan’s treatment at the hospital, I think that same quarantine notice for those in contact with him there makes sense.
We can all hold our collective breath and hope that no additional workers, beyond nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, were infected. But you know what the experts say about “hope as a strategy.”
Before the circle of exposure has a chance to grow even more, let’s exercise an extra measure of prudence in this case. Yes, it will create discomfort and difficulty for those quarantined. But is that too high a price to prevent any more slip-ups like this one?
Dallas is already quickly gaining the title of “The City That’s Sick.” Let’s rally around doing everything we can to stop the potential spread of the disease, rather than just waiting for CDC to figure it out. I’m beginning to wonder whether, in CDC’s efforts not to create panic, the agency has been less than prudent in its handling of the nation’s first Ebola cases.
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