State monitoring 11 who returned from West Africa
State health officials said Wednesday 11 Delawareans who recently returned from Ebola-affected West African countries are being monitored by the Delaware Division of Public Health.
These individuals are considered “low-risk,” which means they did not come into contact with any Ebola-infected patients abroad.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state’s Division of Public Health, said they are not under strict quarantine since they are so low-risk.
Health officials say they are taking extra precautions to ensure that no symptoms will progress.
The individuals were identified over the last 10 days during the ramped-up screening at the five major airport hubs for international travel to the United States, Rattay said.
These airport hubs include John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
Eight of the individuals are from New Castle County and three are from Kent. Each person was given a fever monitoring kit and received daily calls from Delaware Division of Public Health officials.
“We really feel that the approach we take expresses an abundance of caution in protecting the public,” she said.
In his first public appearance addressing the Ebola crisis, Gov. Jack Markell also expressed confidence the state is taking all appropriate and necessary precautions to handle any suspected Ebola cases.
“Other governors are going to make their determinations for whatever reasons they are going to make them … We have been very much guided by the science,” Markell said.
“My understanding is that in the entire country, there have been a total of four cases. I think we can control what we can control, and we are going to control that the best we can.”
Markell did not follow the lead of fellow governors to the north.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have set off a furor with their aggressive handling of the Ebola crisis.
The two put together a mandatory, three-week quarantine plan for health care workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa that has come under fire from the White House, medical groups and some quarters of the media.
While reassuring to some jittery residents, the governors’ quarantine plan – unveiled with precious few details of how it would work – seemed to many to be at odds with science, since infected people are not contagious until they develop symptoms, and the virus is transmitted only through bodily fluids.
The strategy came under almost immediate attack after the first person quarantined under the new policy, a nurse from Doctors Without Borders named Kaci Hickox, complained that her treatment was inhumane.
On Wednesday, Hickox said she plans to stop quarantining herself in rural Maine, where she moved, signaling a potential showdown with state police there monitoring her home and state officials preparing to legally enforce the quarantine.
Hickox, who has shown no symptoms of Ebola, told NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America” she was abiding by the state’s voluntary quarantine by having no contact with people Tuesday and Wednesday. But she said she’ll defy the state if the policy isn’t changed by Thursday.
“I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health,” Hickox said on “Today.”
Also Wednesday, President Obama called American doctors and nurses who are working in West Africa heroes. At a White House event that paid tribute to them, the president made it clear he disagrees with policies that require a 21-day quarantine of anyone who has recently returned from West Africa, where Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people.
“We need to call them what they are, which is American heroes. They deserve our gratitude and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The 11 Delawareans that are being monitored do not have such stringent guidelines, but health officials have a system in place if symptoms like a fever or stomach ache progress.
If symptoms do persist, Rattay said patients would be monitored face-to-face every day, they would not be allowed on public transportation systems and they would need to avoid crowded areas.
“They really need to be in only settings where everyone would be at least an arm’s length distance from them,” she said.
Quarantine would only be needed if there was a ‘high-risk’ patient who was directly exposed to infected body fluids or infected medical supplies. But the chances of having a high-risk patient would be extremely rare, Rattay said.
For now, Markell is comfortable with the plan of action he and state officials laid out Wednesday.
“We are going to be very much on the alert and certainly in touch with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to make sure we have all the most updated information, including when people who may be at risk come to our state,” he said.
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