DALLAS (AP) — Worries over Ebola kept some Dallas schoolchildren home Thursday after school officials identified five students who may have come into contact with the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with the virus.
Attendance is down about 10 percent at five schools where the affected students were either in class or nearby this week, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles said. Officials have said those students have shown no symptoms and are being monitored at home, where they are expected to remain for three weeks.
But there are already signs of parents taking no chances.
Yah Zuo left L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary on Thursday morning with her two children, including a 6-year-old daughter. Zuo hoped to enroll her elsewhere.
Zuo is of Liberian origin and said she knows the family with whom Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who traveled from Liberia to Dallas last week, was staying. She said she has not met Duncan since he arrived, but she has known some of the children now in isolation.
“In situations like this, you cannot stay friends,” Zuo said. “You have to protect the ones you love.”
She added, “This virus is not something you play with.”
Yasmeen Scott, a bus driver for the district, walked her 8-year-old daughter, Akeelah, and 5-year-old son, Bishop, to the door of the school Thursday. She cautioned her children to wash their hands as often as possible, but she said she was satisfied so far with what the district has told her about Ebola.
“I’ve got to work,” Scott said, explaining her decision. “They have to go to school.”
Ebola isn’t contagious until symptoms appear, and then it can spread only by close contact with a patient’s bodily fluids. State health officials said Thursday that more than 80 people are now being monitored for symptoms of Ebola in Texas.
Miles has said the district is acting out of an “abundance of caution” and would add more health workers to keep watch for symptoms among students. The district also deployed more custodial workers to the campuses, which include another elementary school, two middle schools and a high school.
“The students didn’t have any symptoms, so the odds of them passing on any sort of virus is very low,” Miles said.
The school district in Richardson, a suburb about 5 miles northeast of the hospital treating Duncan, also sent three elementary school students home after health officials determined they may have been in contact with Duncan.
Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 7,100 people in West Africa, and more than 3,300 deaths have been linked to the disease, according to the World Health Organization. Symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding, and can appear as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus.
Officials have not revealed the ages of the children who had contact with the man.