DALLAS — The number of possible contacts with the Ebola patient in Dallas has risen to 80, said Zachary Thompson, Dallas County Health and Human Services director Thursday.
He also said a control order has been issued to the family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the man identified by The Associated Press as the victim of the often-fatal virus. Thompson said that means the family members are confined to their apartment and the front and back areas, such as the patio.
Parents rushed to get their children from school Wednesday after learning that five students may have had contact with the Ebola patient in a Dallas hospital, as Gov. Rick Perry and other leaders reassured the public that there is no cause for alarm.
The patient, identified by The Associated Press as Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia, arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 20 to visit family. Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson said county officials suspect that 12 to 18 people may have had contact with Duncan.
“Right now, the base number is 18 people, and that could increase,” he said. Thompson said more details are expected by Thursday afternoon. The number includes five students at four schools, Dallas school district Superintendent Mike Miles said.
“This case is serious,” Perry said during a news conference at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Duncan is being treated. “Rest assured that our system is working as it should. Professionals on every level on the chain of command know what to do to minimize this potential risk to the people of Texas and of this country.”
Miles said Dallas school officials learned Wednesday morning that five students at four schools — Tasby Middle, L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary, Dan D. Rogers Elementary and Conrad High — had come in contact with Duncan. Lowe Elementary is also being watched because it connects to Tasby.
“Since none of the students had symptoms, I’m pretty confident that none of the kids were exposed,” Miles said.
At L.L. Hotchkiss, parents pulled their children out of school early.
“I’m scared,” said parent Kia Collins, who has four children at the school ages 5 to 11. “I may keep them home all week.”
District officials said they plan to have counselors and translators reach out to parents: 32 languages are spoken just at Conrad High.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re here is we don’t want misinformation getting out there,” Miles said. “We found out this morning, and then we had a press conference.”
He urged parents to keep their children in school, but some were wary. Marcie Pardo said she picked up her 8-year-old daughter, Soriah, within minutes of being notified by school officials.
“To find out this is a school where it is happening, what are the odds?” Pardo said. “I’m sure there could have been some kind of contact somewhere.”
A letter to parents of children at Hotchkiss, 6929 Town North Drive, said the school was notified Wednesday that “one of our students may have had contact with an individual who was recently diagnosed with the Ebola virus.”
The letter goes on to say that the student has no symptoms, has been told to stay home and is under observation by the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department.
“… There is nothing to suggest that the disease was spread to others, including students and staff,” the letter says.
The Ebola virus is not spread through the air but through contact with bodily fluids — sweat, blood, saliva and other secretions.