CLEVELAND — Ohio is ratcheting up protective measures against Ebola after a second health care worker who had been in the area was diagnosed with the disease.
State and local officials have taken aggressive measures to contain anyone they believe may have been exposed through Amber Vinson, a 29-year-old nurse who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient to die in the U.S. Vinson was diagnosed with the disease after taking a flight from Cleveland to Dallas this week.
The Ohio Department of Health issued new Ebola quarantine protocols for local health departments that go beyond those issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While federal and international guidelines stress that Ebola is not spread through casual contact—only through contact with infected bodily fluids, objects like needles, or animals—the Ohio government is now recommending 21 days of quarantine for anyone who has had “direct physical contact” with an infected individual, “including brief contact such as a handshake without personal protective equipment.”
Ohio also recommends that those who have been “within a three-foot radius” of an infected individual for a prolonged time, such as on an airplane or car, monitor themselves twice a day for 21 days and see a public health official.
Two schools in the Cleveland area were also closed because of the disease: A teacher at one school was “suspected of having contact with an affected person,” and the teacher at another school was on a different flight “but perhaps the same aircraft” as Vinson.
At the same time, officials stressed that such measures were being taken “out of an abundance of caution” and admitted that health officials had not recommended the closures.
“There was no public health recommendation to close the schools and we do not believe there is a risk to our students and staff. However, we made the decision to close Solon Middle and Parkside for tomorrow out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our students and staff,” Solon City officials said in a statement.
The Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth Hospital also sent home 13 nurses who had been on the same flight as Vinson when she first flew from Dallas to Cleveland last week.
Dr. Jennifer Hanrahan, chair of the infection control committee at MetroHealth, said the nurses from the hospital had been sent home in order to allay the public’s concerns, not because they were actually at risk of spreading Ebola to others.
“I wouldn't have sent them home to their children and families if I thought there was some risk,” said Hanrahan. “There's no risk to any patient they treated, there's no risk to anyone.”
She added: “A lot of steps being taken are because we know people are concerned and worried—it's to decrease worry.”
Hanrahan stressed the need for a “reasonable response,” stating that it was unnecessary to close the school with a teacher who wasn’t even on the same flight as Vinson’s.
"That's not necessary,” she said. “The danger is that the kids aren't in school, parents have to figure out what to do. We need to be careful and not overreact.”