DALLAS — There is Ebola, and then there is fear of Ebola.
For the thousands of parents and schoolchildren in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it is a concern that they wrestled with on Thursday morning after learning that five school-age children had had contact with a man who is ill with the disease.
“My mom, she recommended that I not touch a lot of kids at school,” said Royale Hollis, 15, a freshman at Emmett J. Conrad High School, which at least one of the children attended. “I haven’t been shaking hands, just bumping elbows. People just keep their distance. Girls don’t give boys hugs. We’re all cool with each other but we just don’t want to catch anything.”
The school is just around the corner from an apartment complex where the Ebola patient, Thomas E. Duncan, was staying before he was rushed to the hospital and given the diagnosis.
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Mr. Duncan, who is in isolation at a Dallas hospital, came into contact with five children who went to four different schools — a high school, a middle school and two elementary schools.
Qhe children are believed to have had contact with Mr. Duncan over the weekend, when he was sick and contagious, and to have attended school the following Monday. Those children, who have not been identified, are being kept at home, and health workers are monitoring them daily for signs of the disease.
None of the children have symptoms, and the chances that they passed the virus to other people at the school are extremely low, health officials said. Even when people are infected with Ebola, they are not contagious until they get develop symptoms. And even then, the virus can be transmitted only through bodily fluids and close physical contact.
Still, some parents decided to keep their children home Wednesday, according to news reports, while many others warily accepted the reassurances of public health officials — even if they planned their own improvised protective measures, like telling their children to keep their distance.
The superintendent of the Dallas school system, Mike Miles, said Thurday afternoon that attendance at the four schools was “down a little bit.” Attendance was 86 percent on Thursday, Mr. Miles said, compared with 95 percent on a normal day.
Outside Dan D. Rogers Elementary School in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of Dallas, parents were greeted by throngs of reporters and TV cameras.
Ashley Jackson, 28, said she decided 25 minutes before the morning bell to let her kindergarten daughter come to school.
“One thing I know about my daughter: she wanted to go to school,” Ms. Jackson said. “I talked to my mom, and we spoke about it. It’s very scary.”
But she had to put her faith in the authorities, she said.
Andre Riley, a school district spokesman stationed Thursday morning at Rogers, said the school was performing nightly “deep cleanings, just to be proactive.” The district sent letters home with students and set up a hotline to reassure parents.
Inside the schools, Ebola so dominated the conversations that students said it was hard to concentrate on anything else.
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Jimmy Glover, a 16-year-old sophomore at Emmett Conrad, said he had thought about wearing a medical mask to school but could not find one. “The teachers can’t really teach because everyone’s talking about it,” he said.
Alex Luna, 17, said he had considered staying home, but as a senior hoping to get into college, he did not feel he could afford to miss days. “I’m worried about catching it and spreading it to my family,” he said. “It’s not something to play around with.”
A parent held out a fact sheet about Ebola handed out by L. L. Hotchkiss Elementary School in Dallas on Thursday. Credit Marina Trahan-Martinez
Ana Yanci, 16, a junior, said that her parents had urged her to stay home for a few days, but that she had decided to remain at school as long as other Ebola cases do not develop. “It’s not a big deal to me now,” she said. “I think it’s under control.”
Some parents said the schools should be doing more to ease concern.
Eyefe Palmer, 49, originally of Nigeria, was disappointed that administrators at L. L. Hotchkiss Elementary sent out only what amounts to a fact sheet about Ebola.
“They told me those things,” he said, “but I feel the principal should call a meeting with the parents to explain, not just a letter. Maybe to build up confidence.”
Mr. Palmer is especially nervous because the school will not release detailed information about the child who had contract with the Ebola patient, including grade level, age, gender or classroom.
“I heard the kid rides the bus,” he said. “Which bus did he ride? Who were the fellow students in that bus before they noticed? They won’t tell if the kid was in my kid’s class,” he said. “Ebola is not something you joke with.”
[ My intention with my blog is to simply collect articles of interest to me for purposes of future reference. I do my best to indicate who has actually composed the articles. NONE of the articles have been written by me. — Louis Sheehan ]
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