Texas Is Officially Ebola-Free

by Lauren Barbato

More than a month after "patient zero" Thomas Eric Duncan arrived at a Dallas hospital with a high fever and abdominal pain, Texas has been officially cleared of Ebola. According to Politico, the 21 days of self-monitoring for the last person under watch of federal health officials ended at midnight on Friday. With no new cases of Ebola confirmed, it looks like Texas has finally beat the highly deadly virus.

The New York Times reports that the last person being monitored was a health care worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who handled medical waste on Oct. 17, the day infected nurse Nina Pham was transferred to the National Institutes of Health hospital in Maryland. A group of other health care workers who either had contact with Pham and fellow infected nurse Amber Vinson, contaminated surfaces or medical waste, were cleared of their 21-day monitoring period on Thursday. In all, nearly 180 Dallas-area residents were monitored over the last month for symptoms of the disease.

No one in Texas has contracted Ebola since the cases of Duncan and the two nurses who treated him at Texas Health Presbyterian. Duncan, a Liberian national who contracted Ebola while helping a neighbor in West Africa, died of the virus on Oct. 8. Pham and Vinson tested positively for Ebola just days after Duncan's death; both were eventually cleared of the virus after extensive treatment.

However, state and federal health officials had to track down hundreds of people who had direct contact with Duncan, Pham and Vinson. Health officials even placed Pham's dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Bentley, under a mandated 21-day quarantine; Bentley emerged virus-free and was released last week.

But as of Friday, Texas' public health crisis was finally over. "God willing, we are going to be Ebola-free Friday midnight," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC News.

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The first state in the United States to have an Ebola outbreak, Texas set the stage for disease protocol — but not necessarily in a good way. The state and the hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian, have received criticism for sending Duncan home on his first trip to the emergency room, even though he reportedly told hospital staff about his recent travel from West Africa. Duncan was already exhibiting symptoms of Ebola then, but wasn't admitted until two days later, when the disease had already progressed.

After two health care workers contracted the virus from Duncan in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called an obvious "breach in protocol," a nurses union alleged that workers at the hospital were facing ill-prepared and dangerous situations without the proper training or protective gear. The union also claimed that the hospital was letting medical waste pile up to the ceiling. However, the hospital called these claims "sensationalized" or wholly "inaccurate."

In a recent interview with People magazine, Texas Health Presbyterian nurse and Ebola survivor Vinson described her Ebola training as a "crash-course education." The course was, basically: "This is what you have to wear, this is how you take it on and off."

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What we may never know about the Texas-Ebola outbreak is how Vinson and Pham contracted the virus from Duncan. Although health care workers have the highest risk of catching Ebola, and the CDC claimed there must have been a protocol breach, Vinson insists that she just doesn't know how it happened. I followed the CDC protocol. ... I never strayed," Vinson told CNN on Thursday. "It is a mystery to me."

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