More and more people on the 21-day Ebola monitoring list are being given the “all clear” this afternoon, a positive step that Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says is proof that Dallas is now “winning the fight against Ebola.”
At a Dallas County Health and Human Services briefing before the County Commission meeting Tuesday morning, DCHHS Director Zachary Thompson said 51 people had been removed from the monitoring list as of 10:30 a.m. — a slight increase from Monday’s number.
But an hour later, the CDC gave a new number — 60 contacts have completed surveillance and no longer pose a risk to catch Ebola.
Dallas County Medical Director Dr. Christopher Perkins said the number is “fluid” and will continue to change.
A few days ago Dallas County became one of the only county health departments in America with the ability to test for the Ebola virus, making it possible to test for the virus at the state lab in Austin or the Dallas County HHS office near Downtown Dallas.
Thompson said they’ve already had to perform two Ebola tests, both of which were negative. Still, it gave his staff key experience in testing for the deadly virus.
It’s called a “Preliminary Chain Reaction" (PCR) test, and it takes 4-6 hours to complete. But, Thompson said by being able to test for Ebola within Dallas County gives patients peace of mind more quickly and can save taxpayer dollars.
"It's a big deal because Dallas County is only county in the state that can do the test. The turnaround time is key. The quicker we can get the results the quicker we can get the information to patients. And so right now the two tests we've performed have been negative," Thompson said.
Earlier this month, epidemiologists had to drive the Ebola samples to the state lab in Austin. Dr. Perkins said it’s a 400 mile round trip and takes about four hours. He estimated the cost of gathering the sample; packaging and preparing it for the drive; plus gas and expenses at around $500.
“Considering that the Ebola situation occurred here initially, we need to be in the right position to address the position locally, rather than deal with a 3- to 4-hour drive to Austin,” Perkins said.
Thompson said Ebola can hit any hospital, in any county, in any state in the country. If needed, he said he’s willing to send his epidemiologists to help contain an outbreak somewhere else.
“Hopefully that will never happen,” he said. “But we stand ready to assist any state or any county in their response. We want to use our expertise,” he said. “But let’s hope that we have the funding, we have the PPE, we have the CDC Guidance, so if this happens again we can hit the ground running on day one."
Both Perkins and Thompson said they had no advanced knowledge that Amber Vinson requested permission to fly to Ohio while on the Ebola watch list, and they both said they never personally spoke to her about the trip. They would not comment further about the county health worker who may have spoken with Vinson and told her it was OK to travel on a plane out of state.