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Ebola Waiting Game Continues In Dallas


We're starting the hour in Dallas, where there are still many questions about the response to the first Ebola case diagnosed in this country. The CDC says it is now actively monitoring 50 people who may have been exposed to the disease. Ten of them are considered to be at high risk. Four people in that high-risk group were staying in an apartment with Thomas Duncan before he was admitted to the hospital. They're being moved to a different location today and hazmat crews are now cleaning up the apartment. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: In the movies whenever an Ebola-like disease strikes an American town, the first thing you notice is how all the actors move everywhere with a sense of utmost urgency. Platoons of doctors and scientists rush around the hot zone. The sick are whisked away while those who've been in contact with the disease are isolated in reverse-pressure tents and watched every second. Overhead, military helicopters ferry in the devastatingly good-looking doctors who are going to save the day.

And that's exactly the way it is in Dallas, except it's not the federal government cleansing the site. It's CG Environmental - the Cleaning Guys - with locations in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Those helicopters you hear overhead - they're shooting B role for the 5 o'clock news. And instead of square-jawed National Guard at the perimeter, there's just apartment security guards sitting in their cars in the driveway keeping reporters out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, you can't come in.

GOODWYN: For six long days, Thomas Eric Duncan's family members were trapped in their small apartment, with one bedroom off limits because it was filled with Ebola-soiled sheets and mattresses. Not only was there no help cleaning the apartment, there's been precious little assistance of any kind. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins admitted everyone has to do better.

CLAY JENKINS: I did travel myself and went inside the apartment with two CDC epidemiologists last night to apologize to the family for the delay in getting those removed and to assure them that I want to see them treated as I would want my own family treated. And we are making efforts to make sure that their accommodations and their comfort improves.

GOODWYN: Unlike the silver screen, the reality of managing an outbreak is anything but heroic. It's hard work and doesn't always go well. For example, some of the adults and children who've been asked by the CDC to stay home have not stayed home. One child even went back to school for half a day before being caught. According to Reuters, when Ebola patient Thomas Duncan left for the hospital, he vomited outside on the sidewalk. The vomit was simply hosed off by the apartment complex staff. Still, nobody else has gotten sick. The CDC's Dr. Beth Bell says they're monitoring 50 people for any sign of the disease. Ten of the 50 are considered high risk.

BETH BELL: We've cast a wide net and we have decided on a group of people where - you know, we have a very low bar for deciding to follow patients. Because the reality is that we have really a low level of concern about the vast majority of these patients.

GOODWYN: As the contaminated mattresses, towels and other waste is removed from the apartment, it will be stored in a sealed container guarded by the Dallas police until a final disposal spot is chosen.

Now it’s a waiting game - wait to see if Ebola-patient Thomas Eric Duncan gets better and if anyone of the 50 who are being monitored gets sick. Wade Goodwyn, NRP News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.