High School Teacher Discloses Contact with Sierra Leone Individual

Being away from the news because of caring for a family member who had surgery last week means playing the game of catch up on both local and national news. The local paper where I live is not large and is only printed a few times a week; however, a story that caught my eye on Sunday led me to look back at previous issues to determine what exactly happened in the once small town near Atlanta.

According to the Covington News, a teacher at Newton High School was cleared to return to teaching today after declaring to students last Tuesday that she “had been in contact with someone who had returned from Sierra Leone” – an area hit hard by the Ebola virus outbreak where entire villages have disappeared. Principal John Ellenberg stated the teacher did not have Ebola or any other contagious disease and had been cleared by Emory Healthcare to return to work. As a precaution, the teacher’s room was “sanitized.” Unfortunately, the teacher has not been identified.

In response to the declaration, 213 of the 2,142 students at Newton High School were absent on Wednesday. Ellenberg, in a message to parents said, “With the amount of media attention that has been given to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we are all worried and frightened of any form of exposure to the disease here at home. Newton High School and Newton County School System leaders are committed to safeguarding the health and safety of our students. All actions taken by the Newton County School System were preventative in nature and followed guidelines established under Board of Education Policy for Infectious Diseases. Our school system will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect students from all potential hazards.”

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The Newton County School System only posted the statement Tuesday evening after concerned parents called earlier in the day. Did the teacher notify the school system and principal of her contact with someone who had been to Sierra Leone? Was the school aware prior to the parents’ phone calls? Would the school have issued a public statement if parents had not called? These are legitimate questions that should be addressed by the school system and Newton High School principal. After all, our schools are now government-run with employees towing the government line.

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An information packet with infection prevention tips, along with a letter from school superintendent Samantha Fuhrey, was sent home with students on Wednesday. The Georgia Department of Public Health Guidance for Ebola Virus Disease for school children can be viewed here.

Georgia’s response to the risk of Ebola is a 21-day monitoring for symptoms. In the meantime, individuals are allowed to roam about the city, county and surrounding areas under the assumption that no one is contagious until symptoms are shown. Since the teacher “has been cleared” by a medical provider as being free from Ebola or other contagious disease, the teacher is allowed to return to teaching children. Nothing is made mention of the teacher’s spouse, who is the initial contact that exposed the teacher.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on Ebola transmission changes frequently and it is now thought to be droplet-borne – in other words, the virus is contained in small aerosolized droplets that are sneezed, coughed, or vomited into the air by an infected individual. Contact with these infected droplets produces an exposure to individuals who could possibly contract this contagious, deadly disease. With the cold and flu season upon us and those who suffer from seasonal allergies causing sneezing, coughing, fevers, muscle aches, headaches, etc., simple preventative infection methods as outlined by the Newton County School System may not be enough to prevent an exposure should an individual become infected with Ebola. Because Ebola symptoms may initially mask as another contagious disease and have a possible 42-day incubation period, a person could very well have the Ebola virus while health officials diagnose it as something else by clinging to the CDC established 21-day incubation period.

It has been seen that health care workers in West Africa taking extreme precautions have contracted this disease and health care workers in Texas contracted this disease using standard hospital infection control procedures. How can the Newton County School System send an information packet on infection prevention tips home with students giving the impression these “simple” mechanisms will stop or prevent the transmission of Ebola should one student or the teacher contract the virus?

Many experts, along with nurses, have announced that hospitals are not prepared to treat Ebola-stricken individuals and contain this virus. Although the local hospital here made sure to spread their propaganda that they are totally prepared to deal with Ebola-stricken individuals. America has seen how well hospitals are equipped to handle Ebola after the Texas Presbyterian Hospital fiasco.

The school indicated the teacher’s classroom was “sanitized.” What exactly does that mean to this school system? What protocols were followed? Who performed the sanitization procedures? When was the classroom sanitized? The school was open on Wednesday after the declaration was made on Tuesday. And, the school issued the statement that evening. What good was sanitizing the classroom when the teacher will be allowed to return under a 21-day monitoring protocol along with students who have also been exposed?

What about areas like restrooms, school buses, central offices, teachers’ lounges, the cafeteria, and any other area this teacher and students roamed freely in the school? It then stretches to the medical offices of Emory Healthcare and which office of Emory Healthcare, not to mention places in town where this teacher and students she exposed visited. Many high school students work in fast food restaurants, local retail businesses and grocery stores. What about the notification to those places? What about the number of customers who visited those places?

Students who were absent on Wednesday were “excused,” but the school will enforce the attendance policy after that day. So for parents and students who did not consent to being exposed to a possible contagious deadly virus through an exposed teacher, the school is now mandating that students be possibly exposed. Parents and students have a choice – either send your children to school to risk exposure or suffer the consequences.

While the CDC and public health officials maintain that individuals with Ebola are not contagious until after symptoms appear, can we be so sure, since many viruses are contagious before symptoms are visible?

Many Americans would like to think that the Ebola virus would be confined to the big cities; but, as has been shown here, it is not, and it can affect any town anywhere in America. Granted, Georgia is one of the six states charged with monitoring and screening incoming individuals from Ebola-ravaged areas. However, if these individuals do not reside in Georgia, they board a plane to their place of residence or final destination meaning everyone faces the risk of exposure – a risk that was not consented to by Americans and a risk that is unnecessary when the means exists to stop individuals exposed to Ebola or traveling from Ebola-ravaged areas from entering our communities.

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