At least a dozen Ebola cases have been investigated in the District of Columbia, the director of the city's Department of Health disclosed Thursday, but no one has tested positive for the disease.
Dr. Joxel Garcia told reporters officials were able to rule out the disease after isolating the patients, and said no one is currently in isolation. Unlike a widely-reported Oct. 3 scare at Howard University Hospital, most of these cases flew under the radar of local news media. Without going into specifics, Garcia said things should have been handled better.
"I think that we have to start learning if a patient is at risk or not before we start telling people that we have a patient or not," Garcia said. "The number one thing is to protect the people in the District." Earlier in the day, NBC News reported that the first Texas healthcare worker infected with Ebola would be transferred to an isolation unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Nina Pham, 26, is expected to arrive from Dallas around 11 p.m.
"We're fighting right now two things: fear and Ebola," Garcia said. “Fear is in the forefront."
Garcia opposes designating a specific hospital in the District to deal with the disease. Instead, he repeated multiple times during a Northeast Washington press briefing, every hospital in the city is prepared.
“There's not going to be any epidemic in the district while I’m here,” Garcia said. He acknowledged there may be "one or two cases in the future," but said the city is ready as long as the disease does not become airborne.
D.C. is more at risk than other places in the U.S. as an international city that welcomes more than 2 million visitors from other countries each year and has three major airports. Washington Dulles International Airport is one of a handful of airports where Customs and Border Protection agents have begun screening travelers from the West African nations for symptoms of Ebola.
"If we suspect a case, there will be a phone call with [Centers for Disease Control] immediately," Garcia told reporters. “We’re on call all the time.”
A task force is being put into place so D.C. can learn from Dallas, where the first known transmission of the disease in the U.S. occurred as well as the African nations that are dealing with the disease. Department of Health officials will coordinate with local universities to identify the best approaches to communication, education and training.
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