The sweat-stained sheets of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, still on her bed, a woman quarantined in a Dallas apartment said Thursday that she desperately wants her family’s nightmare to end.
“We can’t wait to be over with everything,” the woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Louise, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “We can’t wait.”
While Duncan is in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, his partner and three others have been stuck in a Dallas apartment since his diagnosis this week. Louise told CNN that authorities had her sign paperwork stating “if we step outside, they are going to take us … to court (because) we’ll have committed a crime.”
So there she has stayed, along with her 13-year-old son and two nephews in their 20s. But it hasn’t been easy.
Louise told CNN’s Cooper by phone that she is checking her temperature every hour, and based on that and everything else, isn’t sick. She expressed frustration being confined nonetheless, since people are only contagious with Ebola if they are symptomatic.
Duncan’s girlfriend has been frustrated in other ways as well.
She said no one brought food Thursday to four people who can’t leave to get it themselves, at least until later in the day. There was also the matter of their power going out, which was likely related to strong storms that rolled through the area. Then, of course, there’s the idea of living in a place that — just a few days ago — was home to an Ebola sufferer.
Her 35-year-old daughter brought over Clorox to help clean the house, and she sealed up Duncan’s dirty clothes and towels in a bag.
“But (authorities) said we shouldn’t throw anything away until they can get back with me,” Louise said.
That hadn’t happened as of Thursday evening. That’s when men in trucks from Cleaning Guys, a company that specializes in hazmat and biohazard cleaning services, went inside the apartment.
Once everything is cleaned up, even if plenty of food arrives, Louise’s ordeal is far from over.
First off, there’s the fact Duncan — who flew from Liberia to visit her and family members — is still in the hospital, fighting a disease that’s already killed thousands in West Africa.
And Louise, her son and her nephews must wait 21 days from when Duncan first showed symptoms before they can leave the apartment. That’s because Ebola can be in a person for that long before it manifests itself, and someone starts to feel sick.
Reflecting on it all, Louise said Thursday, “I’m just hanging in there, depending on God to save our lives.”
County official: Quarantined four should be relocated
If it were up to the Dallas County director of homeland security, the four people quarantined shouldn’t be stuck in the apartment at all.
Judge Clay Jenkins, also director of the county’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said officials are working on that relocation after Duncan’s partner told CNN of being forced to live with distressing living conditions.
Jenkins acknowledged “some hygiene issues” in the apartment.
“I would like to see those people moved to better living conditions,” Jenkins told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday afternoon. “We are working on that. I would like to move them five minutes ago.”
Jenkins acknowledged problems with Louise’s apartment but defended the overall government response.
“We have some hygiene issues that we are addressing in that apartment,” Jenkins said earlier in the day. “Those people in the apartment are part of Dallas County, and they’re going to be treated with utmost respect and dignity in this unusual situation.
“We are working to get the response, which has been a good response, strengthened every hour of the day,” the judge said.
Partner: Hospital staff told Duncan from Liberia
Louise, a caregiver, sometimes refers to Duncan as her husband — even though they’re not legally married — CNN’s Cooper said.
When Duncan arrived in the United States on September 20, “he didn’t tell me that he came in contact with anybody with Ebola,” Louise said. Nor was he showing any signs of the virus.
But things changed three days later, when Duncan got a headache and a fever, according to his partner.
On September 25, she took him to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where, Louise said, hospital staff were told twice that Duncan had come from Liberia. But “they did not ask” him anything about Ebola, including whether he’d had contact with anyone with the disease in Africa, according to Louise.
Duncan was taken by ambulance to the hospital on Sunday, September 28, after Louise’s 35-year-old daughter saw him “shaking really hard” and with a fever when she came by to give him tea.
Louise said she went to the hospital herself soon thereafter, seeing Duncan “through the glass.”
It was then that health officials first told her that medical officials first told her that her partner may have Ebola.
“I was so (scared),” Louise said.
Did authorities drop the ball?
So, too, is Peterson Wayne.
But Wayne doesn’t want his 13-year-old son, who is the youngest person quarantined in the apartment of his mother, Louise — to know that what he’s feeling. So every time they talk on the phone, Wayne said he want “just to encourage him,” not to frighten him.
“I believe he knows everything,” said Wayne, who is no longer with the boy’s mother but is still pulling for her. “(There’s) no need for me to just go and talk about Ebola.”
Wilfred Smallwood, Duncan’s half-brother, said his 21-year-old son is also among those quarantined in Louise’s apartment, where he lived.
He said that Duncan had come to Texas to “help his son” and visit his family.
Asked about health authorities have handled the quarantine, including the sweat-stained sheets and lack of food, Smallwood conceded that he’s “skeptical.”
“That worries me now, yes.”
He’s not alone.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, a professor at Columbia University’s school of public health, called the handling of the quarantine “hair raising.”
“If, in fact, there was a health worker there every day, what exactly were they doing other than just taking her temperature and leaving?” Redlener said. “It should have been a whole lot more that (Louse) should be expecting.”
Ebola only spreads through infected bodily fluids. And it’s distinctly possible that no one around Duncan got exposed to his. (Louise said she didn’t think she had.)
Still, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta said the continuing presence of the sheets, on which Duncan may have transmitted the virus through sweating, are disturbing.
“We’ve talked about the fact that this virus can live outside the body, can live on surfaces. It’s unlikely for it to be transmitted to someone else that way,” Gupta said.
“But why take a chance?”
Gupta said that “it is hard to believe (the oversight) and there aren’t good explanations here.”
One Ebola expert, Dr. Alexander van Tulleken, also said the federal response to the first Ebola case on U.S. soil seemed troubling.
“So far, we don’t seem to reacting as well as we could,” he said.