Solon Middle School in Solon, Ohio closed on Oct. 16, 2014. Solon Middle School and Parkside Elementary School were closed for disinfection as a precaution to protect students from Ebola.
Amy Harris/Corbis

Ohio Ebola patient’s family leans on church leaders

AKRON, Ohio — Amber Vinson learned that her friend Nina Pham was infected with Ebola early Sunday morning and started noticing that she, too, wasn’t feeling well, a federal official said. Three days later, Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola after flying from Cleveland to Dallas. The Dallas-based nurse and her family isolated themselves soon thereafter — but they also grabbed a lifeline from some of the people they trusted most: their church pastors. 

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Reverend Marvin McMickle has been on the phone every day with Vinson’s stepfather, Kelvin Berry, since her diagnosis. McMickle said Berry sounded “justifiably concerned” about his stepdaughter over the phone but was generally holding steady.

“I think he has such calm because he believes that God is with him and with Debra and with Amber. When you have that resource, you don’t spend quite as much time in anguish. You release your concerns,” said McMickle, the former pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, where he said Berry first met Vinson’s mother.

During her three-day visit to Ohio, Vinson stayed at the Berrys’ home in suburban Tallmadge, which is now cordoned off by yellow police tape and monitored by law enforcement around the clock. Kelvin Berry has been staying there alone since Vinson’s mother flew to Dallas to be with their daughter. But while her stepfather has taken such precautions, he doesn’t expect that he will come down with Ebola, the pastor said.

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“He’s fairly certain his contact with Amber was not of a nature that would have infected him or his wife Debra,” McMickle said.

Meanwhile, both Vinson and her mother have been speaking with Reverend Lorenzo Glenn, asking him to pray for them, according to the New York Daily News. Outside Glenn’s church in Akron, Macedonia Baptist Church, the letterboard read, “Pray about everything / Leave outcomes up to me / God.”

The county health department has not recommended for any schools or churches to close or events to be cancelled because of potential infection. Two school districts in Cleveland closed on Thursday as a precautionary measure, however, and some parents in others have kept their children home.

Vinson’s diagnosis, however, has prompted both federal and state officials to revise their guidelines and take additional steps to contain the disease. In the U.S., the disease has been only been transmitted to two health-care workers, Pham and Vinson, who both extensively treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from the disease earlier this month.

On Friday, Texas officials made efforts to contain the movement of the other health-care workers who cared for Duncan. The workers are now being asked to sign agreements not to fly, take public transportation, “or go to public areas where people congregate.” State and federal health officials had not previously deemed them to be at risk.

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Vinson asked Texas health officials on Monday whether she could fly to Dallas after discovering she had an elevated temperature, her uncle told ABC News. State officials then relayed the information to the CDC, which cleared her for air travel. “At the time, we didn’t consider health care workers exposed because of their use of personal protective equipment. Those health care workers at the time, we now know, should not have traveled. As of now, they can’t travel,” said Dr. Chris Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who is working with Ohio officials on their Ebola response. 

Dr. Margo Erme of the Summit County Public Health Department, urged the public to remain calm as officials adapted to the situation. “We are very upfront that the information will change as we get new knowledge. While that’s unsettling to people, that’s actually very good because information should be used to further the process and make it better,” she said. 

Officials have taken further precautions after the news emerged that Vinson had been feeling unwell earlier than first reported, though she was not exhibiting the specific symptoms of Ebola while visiting the bridal shop. “There’s some indication that she felt funny, that type of thing, during the time when she was here,” said the CDC’s Braden. He added, however, that the symptoms “weren’t specific or pronounced” enough to be proof that the disease was active and thus transmissible to others. “There’s lots of things at play here, and there’s nothing to hang your hat on.” 

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Working together with the CDC, Ohio health officials are still tracking down Vinson’s contacts between Oct. 10 and Oct. 13, when she was in the Akron area to plan her wedding and visited a bridal shop at the time. “We’re talking to people from the bridal shop. The calls are still coming in, and the people are still being talked to,” said Erme.

The county is asking anyone who visited Coming Attractions Bridal & Formal on Oct. 11, between noon and 3:30 pm, to contact an Ebola hotline. The Akron shop remained shuttered on Friday, with a sign indicating that it would be “closed until further notice.” The five friends who came with Vinson to shop for bridesmaids dresses are among those now in voluntary quarantine, according to the Akron Beacon Journal

Ebola can only be transmitted with direct contact with infected bodily fluids, remains, sharp objects, or infected animals. But Ohio officials issued new protocols on Thursday that go well beyond the CDC guidelines: They recommend 21 days of quarantine for those who have shaken hands with an infected individual and self-monitoring for those who’ve had prolonged travel “within a three-foot radius” of an infected individual.  

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At Antioch Baptist Church, where Kelvin Berry worked as an administrator until 2012, staff and security guards alike have been keeping the family in their thoughts. “That’s all we can do, is lift them up in our prayers,” said one staff member, who declined to be identified. “It’s a very serious situation here.”

Ebola and Ohio

Ohio Ebola patient's family leans on church leaders