Whether by land, sea or air, the fear of Ebola has been spreading at a pace far faster than the growth in the number of people diagnosed with the disease.
In recent days, the number of people who have been asked to monitor themselves for symptoms has been steadily growing, especially among healthcare workers who were involved in the original treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died from Ebola on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
As of Friday, a pool of about 1,000 people are being watched for symptoms, have been asked to monitor themselves or have been urged to check with a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group includes a handful of people who have been ordered into quarantine, a larger group that is being closely watched with temperatures taken at least daily and a much larger group of travelers who may haven flown on a Frontier Airlines jetliner used at some point by an Ebola patient traveling with a low-grade fever.
None of those being monitored, regardless of their group, has exhibited any Ebola symptoms.
Despite those numbers, the fear of Ebola infection has spread from California to Connecticut —places where people have said they had symptoms such as fever or vomiting, prompting official responses such as sending people home or to hospitals for testing. Schools in Texas and Ohio have been been closed, and false alarms have been sounded across the country.
However it is travel-related issues that have come to fore.
On Friday, Carnival Cruise Lines announced that a lab supervisor from the Dallas hospital is in isolation on a ship out of “an extreme abundance of caution.” The unnamed woman had no signs of illness and was considered to be a “very low risk” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet the cruise ship, the Carnival Magic, was denied docking off of the coast of Mexico and is headed back to Galveston, Texas.
“We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests,” according to a statement from Carnival.
The CDC also said two other Dallas hospital workers, who had traveled abroad and returned, had been asked to monitor themselves for signs or symptoms of Ebola. They had not been under the travel restrictions that are now in place for those who may have been exposed to the virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas hospital.
“There were two other individuals that traveled abroad but are now back, and they both are not sick either nor have they been sick,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.
Those travelers are among the 75 healthcare workers who were involved in treating Duncan, who entered the hospital for the last time on Sept. 28.
In all, Dallas officials said there are about 135 people who are being monitored to some degree. They include four of Duncan’s family and friends who shared a Dallas apartment for several days and have been quarantined for weeks, but their 21-day period of being physically cut off is scheduled to end on Monday. The boyfriend of Nina Pham, the first nurse to contract Ebola, is also being monitored at the Dallas hospital. He has not been identified beyond the fact that he works at Alcon, a Ft. Worth-based eye care company.
None have shown any symptoms.
There is also a large pool of passengers and others who flew on a Frontier Airlines plane boarded by nurse Amber Vinson, who is being treated for Ebola at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. The airline or the CDC would like to talk to an estimated 880 people, especially the 132 passengers on Flight 1143 from Ohio to Dallas on Oct. 13 with Vinson, who was running a low-grade fever at the time. That large group includes all of the passengers who were on the craft which flew at least five flights after Vinson’s.
In Ohio, 16 contacts of Vinson have been identified in Summit and Cuyahoga counties and one person is under quarantine, Dr. Mary DiOrio, Ohio Department of Public Health, told reporters on Friday.
None have shown any signs of illness.
“As far as we know, with all the people we’ve talked to, she [Vinson] didn’t have those symptoms” while she was in Ohio, the CDC’s Dr. Christopher Braden told reporters Friday. He, like all officials, said they were acting out of caution, and were being conservative.
“The judgment that we came up to is that we can’t rule out that she wasn’t ill for the time that she was here in Ohio,” Braden said. “So we’re going to be conservative, we’re going to be very aggressive. We’re not going to miss anything, there’s no room for error.”
The travel fears have taken a toll on the American public, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday. A third of those surveyed said they are avoiding travel on trains and avoiding crowded public spaces while 37% said they are avoiding domestic air travel.
Republicans have pushed President Obama to ban all travel from West Africa, where Ebola has already claimed more than 4,500 lives. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential hopeful, backed that call on Friday.
“Air travel is in fact how this disease crosses borders and it’s certainly how it got to Texas,” Perry said during a televised news conference, adding that there should be an exception for aid workers.
The Obama administration has also been under political pressure to toughen efforts to deal with Ebola. On Friday, his administration moved to name Ron Klain, a top aide to two vice presidents, as the new Ebola ";czar,"; coordinating efforts among several agencies to fight the virus.
Meanwhile, Pham is in fair condition, “stable and resting comfortably” and is receiving intensive care in a specially equipped isolation ward at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, officials said Friday.
“We will have her here until she is well and clear of the virus,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Pham, 26, arrived late Thursday night at the NIH in Bethesda, Md. According to Fauci, Pham is sitting up, eating and interacting with the staff.
Fair condition implies that Pham still has some symptoms, Fauci said during a televised news conference.
“She’s here. We’re responsible for her. That’s our job,” Fauci said.
Fauci declined to give a prognosis, but told reporters: “We fully intend to have this patient walk out of this hospital.”
Mohan reported from Dallas and Muskal from Los Angeles. Time staff writers Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Dallas and Christine Mai-Duc in Los Angeles contributed to this report.