Presbyterian Hospital employees who may have had contact with deceased Ebola Virus patient Thomas Eric Duncan are now being asked to sign contracts with the Texas Health Commissioner.
The contracts order the employees to avoid public places and submit to twice daily temperature checks with enforcement authority from the state health department.
It comes after Presbyterian nurse Amber Vinson was found to have flown to and from Ohio during the time she was a possible Ebola contact, potentially spreading the disease to two planeloads of people. She is now being treated for Ebola at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
No other passengers have reported symptoms but concerns have been raised at schools and businesses around the nation over fears those people could transmit the disease. Experts say Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of a patient showing active symptoms.
Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson said 48 original contacts with Duncan from before Duncan’s hospital stay were already being monitored by health officials but local officials thought the health care workers would be monitored by the hospital or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it never happened.
“I just wanted to make sure that there was a mechanism in place and the mechanism that was developed was this document,” Thompson said.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the local leader of the Ebola response, said workers were being asked to sign the contracts and establish monitoring Friday.
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“We see them every day,” Jenkins said. “At the first sign of symptoms, they’re placed into isolation at the hospital. That’s going to help us a lot if anyone else gets sick."
Presbyterian Hospital offered to let employees stay there during the monitoring period which extends 21 days after the last time contact could have occurred. Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson supported the new monitoring arrangement Friday.
“People that have been in the situation, on the wards, in the hospital, should be very careful, not just for the public but for themselves and for their families,” Johnson said.
Johnson was a nurse before entering politics. She said Vinson should have known better than to travel and that reports saying Vinson made inquiries to the CDC about the trip show she knew it was a concern.
“You know yourself,” Johnson said. “Now I think she was probably eager to get back to what she was doing, she was planning a wedding, and all, that’s good. But she knew, to even ask the question, that there was a question about whether she should travel.”
The hospital and the CDC have both acknowledged problems in the Ebola response.
Duncan was sent home after walking into the emergency room on his first visit when Ebola was not properly diagnosed, only to return two days later in an ambulance. Nurses Vinson and Nina Pham somehow contracted the disease caring for Duncan. The CDC director has said a “more robust” infection control response team should have been dispatched to Presbyterian Hospital at the first moment Ebola was confirmed.
Johnson supported the president’s decision Friday to name an Ebola Czar who will be responsible for improving response and coordination.
“I understand also there will be other persons under the guidance of that Czar assigned right here in Dallas because the questions still rest with this hospital, and what happened and how we got to this point,” she said.
Pham was sent to a Maryland hospital Thursday for treatment.