Ebola Causing Fear in Dallas

For the congregation at Skillman Church of Christ, the Ebola crisis seems to keep creeping closer.

In July, the virus struck Dr. Kent Brantly, a medical missionary in Africa whom many of the church’s members know. In September, Thomas Eric Duncan, whose son has worshipped at the M streets church, became ill just to the north in Vickery Meadow and later died.

Then on Sunday, the virus landed on the church’s street. A nurse who helped treat Duncan became the second person diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas. Her apartment is just three blocks down Marquita Avenue from the church.

“As much as we are connected to the world, it’s easy to see something on television and think of it as happening over yonder,” preaching minister Joel Sanchez said during his morning sermon. “But when it hits close to home, it becomes real.”

That reality was clear as Sanchez spoke. As people prayed and sang hymns inside the church, hazmat crews, television cameras and police officers swarmed the street outside. Meanwhile, church attendees and residents of neighboring houses uneasily looked on.

The scene was a replay of what happened less than two weeks earlier in Vickery Meadow. Federal, state and local officials are entering their third week trying to quell fears and halt the spread of the illness in that neighborhood. Now, bleary-eyed local officials have begun the process anew just a couple of miles to the south.

“We heard about [the new case] around midnight and have been working throughout the morning to make sure that citizens of Dallas are safe when they wake up,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said Sunday morning.

That work includes an extensive decontamination effort of the patient’s apartment. A Dallas Fire-Rescue hazardous materials team showed up on the street before daylight. Police set up a perimeter to keep people from entering the complex before the cleanup is complete.

That morning, police had walked the streets around the health care worker’s apartment, knocking on doors and leaving pamphlets about Ebola on doormats. Many neighbors said they didn’t see any need to panic.

“If somebody was going to have it in my neighborhood, that’s probably the best person because she’s a health care professional and knew exactly what to do,” said Carleen Guerrero, who was awakened by a persistent knock on her door at 5 a.m.

Building taped off

By early Sunday evening, the front and back of the patient’s apartment building was taped off. Shawn Williams, Dallas police spokesman, said apartment complex residents were given the option to leave or told to stay put during cleanup.

“People who were inside were asked to stay inside,” he said.

Decontamination work was being done by CG Environmental-Cleaning Guys, the same private company that did the job at Duncan’s residence. Crews sanitized the outside of the apartment Sunday.

“I was speechless,” company vice president Brad Smith said of getting another Ebola call. “I just knew we had to react and gear up and do it again.”

The company had been planning to work on the inside of the apartment Monday, but Sunday evening word came that the state-contracted Protect Environmental Services had been hired to continue the work.

Richard Cameron, Protect Environmental’s general manager, said he had been contacted by the governor’s office.

“The state told us that they want us involved in this,” he said. “We are all local companies, but we’re the state contractor.”

The company was examining the property Sunday night and expects to return by 10 a.m. Monday and begin cleanup work about 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he requested that an additional team of epidemiologists be brought here to search for anyone else who has been exposed to the virus. That team arrived Sunday morning and began the process of tracing everyone who has been in contact with the new patient in recent days.

In some ways, that process will be easier this time, Jenkins said. The nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas had been self-monitoring for symptoms. When she noticed a low-grade fever, she drove herself to the hospital and was moved to isolation within 90 minutes.

That means her contact with other people was limited. Ebola patients are contagious only when they are showing symptoms, so authorities believe the number of people at risk is much smaller than in the case of Duncan, who was symptomatic for days before being hospitalized.

Plans in place

Local leaders stressed those details in their plea for the public not to panic. They said the virus is difficult to contract and that they are confident that it won’t become an epidemic in the United States.

“We expected that it was possible that a second person could contract the virus,” Jenkins said. “Contingency plans were put into place.”

The neighbors seemed to be getting that message. By afternoon, the news crews remained and a hazmat team was still working, but most of the commotion had died down. Women pushed their children down the street in strollers. Couples took afternoon walks. And a woman fed her 7-month-old baby from a bottle on her front steps.

At the church, the service focused on helping people in need across the world. That included the poor in Zimbabwe and refugees in Ukraine, but also the people afraid of Ebola in their own community.

“There is fear and we have to navigate that,” he said.

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.