On Monday, after 21 days in isolation in their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas, Aaron Yah, Youngor Jallah and their four children will no longer have their temperature taken every day by local and federal health officials.
All six family members were exposed to Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who tested positive for Ebola, the deadly hemorrhagic fever, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 30 and died Oct. 8. Duncan’s fiancee, Louise Troh, is Jallah’s mother. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection ordered Troh and several others in the home into strict quarantine, but not Yah, Jallah and their kids. The CDC’s only recommendation for them: Steer clear of work and school and crowds of people for 21 days, until the window for catching Ebola from someone closes.
“From the beginning of this thing, we were not part of the quarantine,” Yah said. “To be on the safe side, we stay home. . . . In my community, people used to come in and out of my house. Because of all the news [about Ebola], no one comes around.”
Yah said he understands.
“People don’t have education about it,” he said, “and if they knew we didn’t touch anything [in Troh’s apartment], maybe they be different.”
Yah said there had been difficult times for the family, being cooped up together. Occasionally he took the children to play in the yard beside the apartment building, but never with others. A thunderstorm knocked out electricity for two days, and a broken refrigerator made for hungry kids. When Yah told the leasing office at the apartment complex about the refrigerator, the manager refused to send a repairman into the apartment, Yah said. Instead, he offered the family the use of a refrigerator in an empty apartment on the same floor. Yah refused.
“If they are not safe to come into our apartment, it is not safe for someone to go into the apartment next door after us,” Yah said. “We don’t know who will be going in there.”
For the most part, the family has relied on donations, although the supply of groceries from the Red Cross was underwhelming.
“Some of the food was expired,” he said, ticking off items such as juice, cereal and applesauce. “Some didn’t even have expiration dates.”
Out of work for three weeks, Yah and Jallah are struggling to support their family.
Once they get an official letter from the CDC declaring them Ebola-free, both will return to work at local medical facilities as nurse’s aides. The family hopes to get the letter on Sunday, the last day of their self-isolation, when health officials arrive for the final time to take their temperature. The children, all under the age of 11, will probably return to school on Monday as well, with the same note in hand.
They do not worry that they will be shunned at their jobs.
“My administrator came to my apartment and said when everything is over I can come back,” Jallah said.
There was weariness more than relief in her voice when asked about the end of the family’s self-isolation. While their lives go on, Duncan’s does not.
“I’m not happy” about returning to the routine, she said. “We are still grieving.”
Yah acknowledged that normalcy will probably not be immediate.
“I’m worried, and I’m thinking about it,” he said. “But I have no other choice. I have to go back to work. I just have to go ahead and see what will happen.”
What happened to Duncan, though, has given Yah pause.
“The hospital is the major cause of Mr. Duncan’s death,” he said. “He shouldn’t have died.”
He said Texas Health Presbyterian was always the hospital he used in an emergency. But not anymore.
“Because of Mr. Duncan’s death,” he said, “I will find another one.”