BRAINTREE — Massachusetts had its first Ebola scare Sunday as dozens of workers and patients were quarantined for hours at a Braintree medical facility, but by late evening fears that a man had been infected with the deadly virus appeared unfounded.
Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston concluded that the man, who recently visited Liberia and was complaining of a headache and body aches, “does not appear to meet CDC criteria to be considered someone at high risk for Ebola, and the likelihood of Ebola virus disease is extremely low,” according to a statement from the hospital.
Officials did not elaborate on the criteria. Hospital officials said the patient will remain in isolation as monitoring continues.
The man, whom officials have not identified, was taken by ambulance to Beth Israel from Braintree’s Harvard Vanguard office, where his symptoms and travel history had prompted clinic staffers to muster a hazardous materials team, alarming patients as unofficial word of an Ebola case spread. People were prevented from entering and leaving the facility for several hours.
As events unfolded, Boston officials conferred with hospital and public health representatives, staying “in constant contact. . . as news of an Ebola scare began to break,” according to a statement late Sunday by Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “Today’s efforts reinforced my belief that the city is more than prepared to deal with any scenario like this,” Walsh said.
At Beth Israel Deaconess, the patient was placed within a protective barrier, and isolated from the rest of the facility, said Dr. Kenneth Sands, senior vice president of the hospital’s department of health care and quality. The hospital had a standing team trained to deal with the virus, he said.
The hospital said that “all precautions continue to be taken to ensure the safety of our patients, their families and our staff.”
The Boston Public Health Commission also released a statement Sunday night saying that the man did not meet criteria to be considered at high risk for Ebola but that the commission would continue to monitor the situation.
Sunday’s incident did not mark the first time Massachusetts officials have responded to concerns about the possibility of an Ebola case, although it was the most public to date. In recent months the state Department of Public Health has worked with local hospitals to investigate other suspected cases of Ebola, and all had quickly been ruled out, according to officials.
“There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Massachusetts,” health officials assured in a statement.
Worldwide, there have been more than 4,000 confirmed, probable, or suspected Ebola deaths in recent months, almost all of them in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.
So far only one person in the United States has died from Ebola: Thomas Eric Duncan died in Dallas on Oct. 8, 18 days after returning from a trip to Liberia. American video journalist Ashoka Mukpo, of Providence, became infected while working as a freelance camera operator in Liberia. He is being treated at Nebraska Medical Center and has shown modest improvements.
Sunday’s scare began in the early afternoon, after the man described his symptoms to health staff at the Braintree clinic. “Out of an abundance of caution we immediately notified authorities, and the patient was securely removed from the building and put into an ambulance,” said Benjamin Kruskal, chief of infectious disease for the practice, in a statement.
The appearance of a hazmat team alarmed patients and workers in the Braintree medical offices.
Denise DiMarzio, who is seven months pregnant, was in a waiting room with her mother, Maureen, for a lunchtime appointment when they noticed people in the building wearing hazmat gear, they said.
Staff at the medical office took patients into examining rooms and explained that there was an emergency, they said, but did not explain the nature of the situation, which alarmed Denise DiMarzio, 35.
“I was like, ‘I’m kind of afraid for my health. Is it something that I could catch or my baby could [contract]?’. . . And they couldn’t answer us,” she said.
Denise DiMarzio, a nurse from Rockland, said the thought of crossing paths with a man possibly infected with Ebola was frightening. “I know it’s not airborne, but the fact that it’s bodily fluids — I mean I don’t know if he was coughing and had secretions on his hands and he was in the same waiting room as I was. It makes me a little bit nervous,” she said.
Maureen DiMarzio, of Weymouth, said that after her daughter went into the examining room, she went outside to her car and spoke with a woman who said, “Did you just come out of there? There’s someone in there with Ebola.”
Maureen DiMarzio said she then called her daughter and told her to leave the building immediately and not touch anything, and she advised others not to go inside. Denise DiMarzio left the building, but police would not allow the women to leave the parking lot until 4:30 p.m.
Denise DiMarzio said she believed police held the people who had been inside because they did not know if they would require decontamination.
Outside the Harvard Vanguard offices Sunday afternoon, police cruisers, fire trucks, and ambulances lined Grossman Drive, and the parking lot was cordoned off by yellow police tape. “Ebola protocol is in place,” said Joe Zanca of the Braintree Fire Department. “We don’t know if he actually has Ebola.”
Public safety officials clustered near the parking lot entry, where an ambulance sat. Five minutes before 4 p.m., the ambulance left the facility, headed south on Grossman Drive.
Brewster Ambulance Service said in a statement that it received a call from the Harvard Vanguard facility about 1:20 p.m. Sunday and dispatched a response team of two ambulances.
The team arrived to find the man waiting in his vehicle, as he had been instructed to do, and put him into an ambulance with its interior sealed with impermeable plastic sheeting, according to the statement. That ambulance will be decontaminated before it is returned to service, the statement said.
At about 5 p.m. a tow truck removed the man’s black Toyota 4Runner SUV, with orange biohazard warning stickers on each of its windows, from the Harvard Vanguard parking lot.