Search expands for contacts in Ebola investigation

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, left, and Superintendent of Schools David James talk before the afternoon Ebola media update at the Ocasek State Building on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Phil Masturzo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Health officials expanded their search for people who may have had contact with a Texas nurse diagnosed with Ebola to include another planeload of passengers and shoppers at an Ohio bridal store.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday broadened its search to identify those who may have been in contact with Amber Vinson as officials investigate whether the 29-year-old nurse had symptoms as far back as Saturday or possibly earlier.

Vinson had treated the Liberian man in Dallas who died of the disease, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids.

She visited family in the Akron area last weekend and flew Monday from Cleveland back to Dallas before being diagnosed with Ebola. Officials previously stressed that Vinson didn’t show symptoms during her Ohio visit, an important detail because people infected with Ebola aren’t considered contagious until they have symptoms.

The CDC is now including passengers on Vinson’s Oct. 10 flight from Dallas to Cleveland as part of its investigation of contacts, in addition to passengers on Monday’s flight, said Dr. Chris Braden of the CDC.

“Some more information that’s come through just recently would say that we can’t rule out the fact that she might have had the start of her illness on Friday,” Braden said.

Meanwhile, Summit County officials are looking for shoppers who were at an Akron bridal store Vinson visited Saturday.

While officials said Vinson was conscientious and limited her movements while in Ohio, she did meet some friends and visited the bridal store. Now, Summit County Public Health officials are seeking anyone who visited Coming Attractions bridal shop in Akron between noon and 3:30 p.m. last Saturday. The store was closed Thursday. Calls to the business and a number listed for the owner rang unanswered.

Frontier Airlines said it is telling passengers on seven flights— the two that carried Vinson as well as five others using the same plane— to contact the CDC.

While officials sought those who had potential contact with Vinson, at least eight people in northeast Ohio were under quarantine Thursday — six in Summit County and two in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland. Health officials also were told the nurse’s mother now is quarantined in Dallas, said Dr. Marguerite Erme, medical director for Summit County Public Health.

Police said Vinson stayed at the home of her mother and stepfather in Tallmadge, northeast of Akron, during her weekend visit. The home has been cordoned off with yellow tape.

Vinson has been transferred from a Dallas hospital to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Her uncle and family spokesman, Lawrence Vinson, said Thursday night she is “stable, and we are continuing to work with her doctors as her treatment progresses.”

“Amber is a respected professional and has always had a strong passion for nursing,” he said in a statement issued through Kent State University, Amber Vinson’s alma mater. “She followed all of the protocols necessary when treating a patient in Dallas, and right now, she’s trusting in her doctors and nurses as she is now the patient.”

As the investigation moves forward, state health officials are asking Ohio hospitals to assess their readiness for handling a potential Ebola patient and ensure they have adequate supplies of protective equipment such as gloves, masks and suits. They recommended that hospitals conduct drills this week to practice how they would interact with such a patient and use protective gear.

President Barack Obama called Gov. John Kasich on Thursday, and the governor thanked Obama for sending five CDC personnel to Ohio, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. Kasich also told the president about the state’s protocol.

“The president said whatever you need, we want to help,” Nichols said.

Even as health agencies continued stressing that the risk of contracting Ebola in Ohio is slim, some schools in Akron and Solon closed amid concerns that some parents or employees had been in in close proximity to Vinson or the plane she flew on.

Two hospital systems in Cleveland and a hospital in Canton said 18 of their nurses were on Vinson’s Friday flight and are on paid leave as a precaution.

At Kent State, three employees related to Vinson have been asked to remain off campus for three weeks.

The university issued a statement Thursday saying the employees work in administrative areas on the campus and have “little or no contact with students.”

And the mayor of a Cleveland suburb put two people on leave and ordered city hall closed for cleaning Friday due to Ebola concerns.

Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers took the steps because the husband of one of the workers had a co-worker who was on the plane that carried a nurse later diagnosed with the virus. And he said a separate worker “may have” been in contact with a family member of Vinson.

Sellers said it was necessary because he couldn’t fight the fear and rumors generated by the situation.

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