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Dallas County officials seeking travel restrictions to keep Ebola in check

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins spoke to the media during a press conference on the status of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan on Oct. 2, 2014. (EPA/LARRY W. SMITH)

Dallas County Commissioners are set to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss whether to call on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to declare an emergency to deal with Ebola. The declaration would give officials greater authority to impose travel restrictions on health-care workers who are being monitored for Ebola symptoms, NBC-DFW reported.

Separately, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on President Barack Obama to consider a ban on travel to the United States from Ebola-stricken countries. In a statement, Boehner said “a temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something the president should absolutely consider along with other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow.”

Boehner is the highest-ranking Republican — indeed the highest-ranking official — to call for restrictions, which have also been urged by other Republican members of Congress. Obama and officials in his administration have resisted calls to limit air transportation in part because they believe it could inhibit the flow of supplies to West Africa and, thus, worsen the problems of the countries fighting the epidemic.

There are no direct flights by U.S. carriers from the three hard-hit nations — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — and fewer than half-a-dozen flights elsewhere in West Africa. Most travelers from Africa to the United States fly through major cities in Europe. For instance, Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Liberia to Brussels, where he boarded a flight to Dulles International Airport in Virginia and hopped on another plane headed for Dallas.

The concern in Dallas is not so much international travel as domestic.

Duncan died in Dallas of the disease and also infected at least two health-care workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, which has been the epicenter of the crisis in the United­ States. Both workers are receiving treatment.

The most recent victim, Amber Vinson, traveled on an plane from Ohio back to Dallas with a low fever, which has triggered a tracking operation searching for people who were on the flight with her.

An elementary-school student and middle-school student who were on that same flight have been asked to stay home from school in Belton, Tex., about an hour north of Austin. The two children, who have not been identified, will stay home for 21 days and monitor their temperatures.

The students attended school Tuesday and Wednesday, but were not showing symptoms of the disease. “Because of this, there is no imminent risk to your child,” school officials said in letters sent home to parents.

During a news conference Wednesday night, Belton Superintendent Susan Kincannon said both students are considered low risk, but “we anticipate that some parents will choose to keep their children at home.”

The school district said via Twitter that three schools will be closed Thursday as a precaution.

And at least two Ohio schools are also being careful. Two schools in Solon, Ohio, some 20 miles southeast of Cleveland, will shut down Thursday. District officials learned a local middle-school staff member may have been on the same plane — but not the same flight — as Vinson, and officials want to disinfect both buildings as a result. The school district sent an e-mail to parents explaining that the closure of both schools is just a precaution.

The plane has since been cleaned and stored in a hangar at Denver International Airport.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC-DFW that Dallas County Medical Director Christopher Perkins will sign a control order that will at least follow the minimum travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including keeping those who are being monitored for Ebola from using public transportation such as buses and airplanes. The legal order would give officials the authority to restrict movement locally. But Jenkins said he is working with the state to ensure the order can be enforced outside Dallas County as well.

“It’s not a problem for you to ride next to a diseased contact in a car,” Jenkins told the station. “But it is a problem if you are in an enclosed area, like an airplane, on a cross-country flight and someone gets symptoms and then they have body fluids that get on other people. So restricting long-distance buses or public transportation, there may be other sorts of venues where you’re locked into an area, that’s what we’re looking at.

“If an order is in place I expect it to be followed and we’d use the law to enforce it, but that won’t be necessary. These are heroic health care professionals who just need some guidance on what they can and can’t do in a very difficult time in their life.”

The declarations last up to seven days. However, they can be renewed by the Commissioners Court, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson told The Washington Post it would be premature to discuss the control order since Perkins has yet to sign it. He declined further comment.


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