As Ebola fear spreads, Ohio and Texas close some schools
DALLAS — An Ebola-infected nurse’s air travel between Dallas and Cleveland has sent ripples of concern through at least two states, leading to school closings and voluntary isolations.
Schools in Texas and Ohio were closed Thursday after officials learned that students and an adult had either been on the flight with the nurse, Amber Joy Vinson, or had contact with her while she was visiting the Akron area.
Vinson and another nurse who contracted Ebola, Nina Pham, were part of the medical team that treated an Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Vinson traveled from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she showed symptoms of the disease.
In Akron, Ohio, officials dismissed students at Resnik Community Learning Center at midday and said it would close until Monday. In a letter to parents, the schools superintendent in Akron, David W. James, said that “a parent at the school had spent time with Ebola patient Amber Vinson when she visited the area this past weekend.”
James said the student at the school had not met with Vinson, who was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta Wednesday night, but the parent and student were being isolated.
In Texas, the superintendent of the Belton Independent School District, south of Waco, said a student at Sparta Elementary and a student at North Belton Middle School were on the same flight as Vinson on Monday.
The superintendent, Susan Kincannon, said officials decided to shut the two schools plus a third, the Belton Early Childhood School, so they could disinfect the schools and buses.
The two students were on the flight Monday and attended classes Tuesday and Wednesday, a statement said. Health officials cleared the children to return to school, but their parents kept them home for 21 days, the maximum incubation period of the virus.
Health specialists expressed skepticism about the closings.
“It’s not a rational decision,” said Dr. Andrew T. Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah. “And it’s harmful, in that it’s going to further spread misunderstanding and irrational fear.”
Dr. Paul A. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, likened the response to the early days of the AIDS epidemic, “when people were afraid to walk into a grocery store and pick up a piece of fruit.”
“This isn’t flu or smallpox,” Offit said. “It’s not spread by droplet transmission. As long as nobody kissed the person on the plane, they’re safe.”
A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas W. Skinner, said the agency had not advised the schools to close.
“We are not aware of any medical reason that would require them to close these schools,” Skinner said. “We are developing guidance for K-12 school officials that will hopefully help them manage situations like this one.”
On Wednesday, officials had emphasized that the passengers on the plane were a low-risk group. Because Vinson had no nausea or vomiting on the plane, the risk “to any around that individual on the plane would have been extremely low,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, CDC director.
The Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District, in Fort Worth, did not close any schools but said one family would be isolated for three weeks because a member of the household flew to Dallas on Flight 1143. The person who was on the plane works at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, and officials said the decision to isolate the family was made in consultation with the military.
In Solon, a Cleveland suburb, two schools closed Thursday because a district employee returned to Ohio “on a different flight, but perhaps the same aircraft, as the Texas nurse with Ebola,” the district said.
And officials of two major health systems in Cleveland — the Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth — said a group of nurses were put on leave because they were on Vinson’s first flight, from Dallas to Ohio, on Friday.
Aultman Hospital in Canton, which had five nurses aboard the flight, said it would also place employees on leave.
At least seven people were in isolation in Ohio Thursday. Summit County Public Health said the people “had some contact” with Vinson.
Vinson called the CDC before boarding the plane and reported a temperature of 99.5 but was not forbidden from boarding the plane.