Ebola panic may be subsiding in Dallas

Ebola information hangs to a door of the upstairs neighbor of Ebola patient Nina Pham, in Dallas, Tex. on Oct. 20, 2014.
Ebola information hangs to a door of the upstairs neighbor of Ebola patient Nina Pham, in Dallas, Tex. on Oct. 20, 2014. McClatchy

Panic over Ebola appears to be waning across much of the Dallas-Fort Worth region as residents drop off the quarantine list and more is learned about how the virus spreads.

In the vibrant north Dallas community of infected nurse Nina Pham, neighbors said they hoped she’d return to their quiet, tree-lined block once she got better. Pham, 26, is being treated for Ebola in Maryland after contracting the virus while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who was the first person to die of the disease in the United States.

A white bag filled with county health information about Ebola hangs on an apartment door in Pham’s building, where at least one resident, neighbors said, hasn’t returned since the news broke about Pham.

Other neighbors look forward to welcoming her. Steven Josephson, 66, has lived above Pham for about two years. He can’t get over the idea that of the more than 1 million people who live in Dallas, one of the three people who were infected with Ebola ended up living so close. But he wants her to return.

“I hope she comes back,” he said.

City and state leaders spoke this week with guarded optimism about the 60 people who’ve come off the Ebola watch list. Another 112 people are still being monitored, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Medical experts emphasize that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids. While some residents – including some parents whose children will share classrooms with those who were on the watch list – remain apprehensive, conversations with leaders and groups indicate that many residents are ready to move on.

Before announcing the opening of an Ebola treatment and infectious disease bio-containment facility in North Texas on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry welcomed the news of those coming off the watch list but said “continuous vigilance” was necessary.

“We look forward to the day when the remaining individuals can also be removed from active monitoring,” Perry said in a statement.

Anthony Padilla, 22, lives in the neighborhood where Duncan and his girlfriend, Louise Troh, resided before Duncan was taken to the hospital and Troh went into seclusion. Padilla acknowledged he’d have some trepidation about having Troh and her children over for dinner but said he’d welcome them into the apartment complex. They deserve “a little humanity,” he said.

“The last thing you want is for someone to be deemed clear and then it breaks out again,” he said. “But as long as they passed quarantine I’m OK with it.”

In Pham’s neighborhood, neighbors were out working in their yards, filling up their recycling bins and walking their dogs.

“Everyone was real concerned at first, but we’ve all gone back to our lives,” said Jon Mott, 57, who lives across the street from Pham.

Josephson thinks it’s not only Pham whom people miss, but also Bentley, Pham’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel, who has a reputation of being an energetic – some say hyper – member of the neighborhood. Bentley is in his own quarantine for the time being.

Josephson looked down at his dog, Simone, as he spoke about seeing Pham on the street.

“Every once in a while when we’d be on the side of the street,” Josephson said, “they’d usually come nose to nose.”