COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officials addressing Ebola concerns in Ohio say they're trying to keep the public adequately informed without prompting panic or drawing undue attention to people who aren't sick and pose no risk.
Health officials stepped carefully as they walked that line this week, repeating one message loud and clear at each opportunity, sometimes three or four times in a row: There are no Ebola cases in Ohio.
But there's certainly been concern, and it grew as officials shared details about an Ebola patient who had visited Ohio and the people with whom she may have had contact. The state's hotline received more than 800 phone calls in the first day and a half.
Each tidbit that officials publicized — the flight numbers for her trips between Cleveland and Dallas, the name of the Akron bridal shop she visited with friends, her relationship to other people whose health is being monitoring — could help narrow down contacts but also gave some people pause as they evaluated whether they might have been near her, or near someone else who had been.
The nurse, 29-year-old Amber Vinson, had treated the Liberian man in Dallas who died of the disease, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Vinson herself is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Even as health agencies stressed that the risk of contracting Ebola in Ohio is slim and that all sorts of precautionary measures are being taken, some schools, hospitals and businesses temporarily closed, did extra cleaning or asked employees to stay home because of concerns about potential contact. Health officials said there was no need for such actions, done in an abundance of caution.
Officials were monitoring the health of 16 contacts in northeast Ohio on Friday but emphasized that none was sick. People infected with Ebola aren't considered contagious until they have symptoms.
The 16 were urged to stay home and have been cooperative, health officials said.
Dr. Margo Erme, medical director for Summit County Public Health, sought to turn public attention away from the contacts and toward what she said were more details for the broader public, such as facts about how the disease is transmitted. She said revealing how many people were monitored was intended to reassure the public.
"As of right now, there is a small number. It is not like dozens or hundreds," Erme said Friday.
Earlier this week, Erme expressed reluctance to provide any identifying information about people being monitored. "That's not important," she said, adding that she didn't want people or businesses to be singled out if there was no sign that they presented an immediate risk to public health.
She'd also been reluctant to identify the bridal shop, saying it wasn't necessary at that point for public safety because it was closed, and she feared the business would be "blackballed." Eventually, officials had to publicize the name when they asked that people call the health agency if they were in the store last Saturday afternoon.
It was an attempt to reach all possible contacts. Some shoppers had appointments, Erme said, but others may have simply wandered in last Saturday afternoon, and asking them to call might be the only way to find them.
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