DALLAS (AP) — Dozens of health care workers who had contact with the man who died of Ebola in Dallas were asked Thursday to sign legal documents in which they agreed to stay home, as authorities across the nation ramped up efforts to limit the virus’ spread.
The documents ask the 75 health care workers who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan to agree not to go to public places or use mass transit, according to Judge Clay Jenkins, top administrator for Dallas County. The agreements are binding legal documents that can be enforced with a variety of remedies, Jenkins said, though he repeatedly declined to elaborate about specific punishments when asked by reporters and expressed confidence that everyone would comply.
“From 21 days after their last exposure, we are agreeing that they are not going to go on any form of public conveyance — any sort of public transportation,” Jenkins said. “We are agreeing that they won’t go where people congregate — public spaces — and we are agreeing that they will self-monitor and allow us to monitor them twice a day.”
It was one of several measures officials were taking Thursday amid an outbreak that has killed one person, infected two nurses and rattled nerves across the nation.
An official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the agency is expanding its Ebola investigation to include passengers on a Friday flight from Dallas to Cleveland that carried a nurse later diagnosed with the disease. Officials already had been contacting passengers on a flight that Amber Vinson, 29, took Monday on her way back to Dallas from a weekend trip visiting family.
Dr. Chris Braden of the CDC said during a news conference in Ohio that health officials are now investigating whether Vinson had any symptoms as far back as Saturday and said they couldn’t rule out that she may “have had the start of her illness on Friday.” Officials previously stressed that Vinson didn’t show symptoms during her Ohio visit.
People infected with Ebola aren’t contagious until they start showing symptoms, such as fever, body aches or stomach pain, and then the disease is only transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluid. Still, Frontier Airlines said it is notifying passengers who either were on Vinson’s flights or on later trips using the same plane, telling them to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if they were concerned.
Meanwhile, the nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola in the U.S. was sent to a specialized federal facility on the East Coast, one day after Vinson was taken to a similar location in Atlanta. A spokesman for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas said the move was necessary as authorities brace for the possibility of another infection in Dallas.
“With so many of the medical professionals who normally staff our intensive care unit sidelined for the continuous monitoring, we felt it was in the best interest of the hospital’s employees, the nurses, the physicians, the community, to give the hospital an opportunity to prepare for tomorrow … for whatever comes next,” said Wendell Watson, a Presbyterian spokesman.
Dozens of co-workers gathered outside the hospital and waved signs in support as nurse Nina Pham, who the hospital has said is in good condition, was transported to an airport for a flight to Maryland.
“I’m doing really well thanks to this team, which is the best in the world. I believe in my talented coworkers. I am #presbyproud!” Pham said in a statement.
Among the health workers being monitored for Ebola is Dallas County’s top public health epidemiologist. Dr. Wendy Chung confirmed Thursday that she spent time at Duncan’s bedside and is among those potentially exposed to the virus.
“Yes, I have been alongside other physicians and nurses in addressing this patient,” Chung said in an email. “I am under the same monitoring protocols which are currently recommended for my clinical colleagues who are in the same exposure category as mine.”