The words Ebola and Belmont County being used in the same sentence have sent Ohio Valley residents into a high state of anxiety. 7News sat down with local health officials and discovered exactly what happened, and why health officials are not panicking.
The two Belmont County individuals were in the same building as nurse Amber Vinson as she was shopping in Ohio, before she discovered she had Ebola. The Ohio Health Department has classified the two as “tier three contacts,” which is the safest classification and people least likely to get Ebola. A tier three contact means they were in an enclosed building together, for less than an hour, having no direct contact, and at all times being more than three feet apart.
“So basically they were in a building with her for less than an hour. Again, just a chance meeting in a building. They didn’t have any physical contact. They didn’t speak,” said Deputy Health Commissioner Rob Sproul.
The two individuals are not quarantined, and are being told to go about their daily life with no restrictions. They must take their temperature twice a day, and if it changes, or if their health changes, they are to contact the Belmont County Health Department. These precautions are under Ohio health guidelines, under federal guidelines, the two would not be monitored at all. Ohio has more stringent rules in place.
“They are still very healthy and they have been very pro-active with us,” Sproul said.
The names of the individuals are not being released. Sproul said they are more afraid of social backlash and public fear than of the extremely slight possibility of coming down with Ebola. “They’re a little nervous because they were put in a situation they had no control of. And again we have to think about how would be feel in their position. How would we like to be treated if we were in their position. And again if the state had not set this higher tier level, they would not have even been notified,” Sproul added.
When the connection to Belmont County was revealed, people panicked and telephone switchboards were humming, from the health department to the courthouse.
Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas explains the panic on Sunday night, “Sunday night was a little dramatic through social media outlets that we had a situation where these two Belmont County residents were actually diagnosed. And of course, as many people now know through the media, that’s not the case.”
Stay with 7News and WTRF.com for updates.