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In Refugee-Rich Vickery Meadow Neighborhood, Residents React To Ebola

Stella M. Chavez
Some residents of refugee-rich Vickery Meadow in northeast Dallas are concerned that a man with Ebola had spent time in the neighborhood.

Ebola is the talk of Vickery Meadow in northeast Dallas. It's a refugee-rich neighborhood with a significant West African population – and it’s where a man was visiting before he became the first person in the United States diagnosed with the Ebola virus.

At E.T. Beauty Supply, it's business as usual. Customers stopped by to purchase the latest styling product and hair accessories. What was different? The conversation. Worker Eriste Fantu from Ethiopia greeted customer Najat Boka with a question.

“Did you hear about the news? About Ebola?”

Boka had heard. She has a 10-year-old daughter and they go to the nearby Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital for their health care -- the hospital that is treating the Ebola patient. Boka says she told her daughter not to worry about contracting Ebola.

“For the people who are here, they have nothing to do with this disease,” Boka said.

Boka said she trusts the staff at the hospital, which is within walking distance.

“Since we have our doctor and he came from there and they took care of him, they’re going to take care of everything,” Boka said.

The man with Ebola is in an isolation ward at Presbyterian. He's in serious condition.

Fantu says she’s not taking any chances. She's been applying alcohol on her hands after every customer.

The patient reportedly traveled from Liberia to Texas. Estimates vary, but some say the state is home to 3,000 Liberian immigrants. Others say there are at least 5,000 Liberians in North Texas. About 19,000 West Africans live in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Alben Tarty, a leader in the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, said he’s asking everyone to be cautious.

“Be realistic,” Tarty said. “Admit to yourself that, yes, if you know the person who was affected and you may have come in contact with that person, all we're saying is go get tested.”

Tarty also hopes this situation doesn’t stigmatize the view of his community.

“I hope people now understand that it's no longer a Liberian situation or a West African situation. It's a world situation,” Tarty said.

At a local barber shop, Rickey Cole stood outside talking with a friend. He lives in Garland, but says he often hangs out in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood.

“It's here and it’s not just about Africans,” Cole said. “It’s about everybody. Everybody’s involved in this. It’s not no one group of people, so we all need to be aware of it.”

Down the street, Paula Ly is a convenience store cashier.

“You know, I hear Ebola like yesterday. And, God, it’s really close to here. It’s just scary what’s going on.”

Ly and others said they wonder what will happen next.

More voices from Vickery Meadow

“God, it’s really close to here”

The convenience store where Ly works is a gathering place in the community. People from different countries come through the store, wanting to send money to family overseas, including West Africa, which has been ravaged by Ebola.

“I hear Ebola – I heard about it yesterday – God, it’s really close to here,” Ly said. “And, oh, it’s just scary what’s going on. I hear like that person, I thought you know they live from here and they visit the family over there. … This kind of sick. Everybody’s scared. I just think like when you know when they pass by an airport, how come they don’t check?”

Ly sighed.

She asks customers sending money back to Liberia about how their families are doing in West Africa.

“Some people just say: Their family is OK,” she said. “Some just say … all their family is gone. It’s sad, too, thinking about it. … They cannot go visit over there. If family passes away, they can only send money to help.”

“Going to buy … some hand sanitizer”

Health officials say Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, such as urine, saliva and vomit. Ebola is not spread through the air or by water.

Laurence Jones, who lives in Vickery Meadow, is wondering about what happened to the patient between the first time he visited Texas Health Presbyterian, which sent him home, and the second time, when he returned via ambulance and was sent to an isolation ward.

“My concern is the patient himself and his family members’ timeline between Wednesday and Sunday,” Jones says. “Did they go to the pharmacy? They sent him home with antibiotics. You sneeze on your hand but you grab the door handle of the pharmacy. How many people have touched that pharmacy? They say it’s exposure. That’s exposure to me. I’m concerned about our community here. We’re a five-mile radius from the hospital. … You ride the DART train, everyone rides the DART train. The pharmacy. Tom Thumb. Kroger. Who’s to say one of their kids or a family member just a simple wiping of the noise? We’re exposed.”

Jones added: “I’m going to buy me some hand sanitizer right now – as soon as I leave here. You just never know.”

“We have to be aware”

Rickey Cole, who was hanging out at a barbershop in Vickery Meadow, said the community needs to be aware of what's happening.

“We have to be cautious of Ebola," he said. "It’s good the media has made us aware of it. It’s just really a serious epidemic right now. We all have to be very careful of what we’re doing right now. … As long as he’s getting treatment, and I’m quite sure our government and city officials is aware of what’s going on and looking out for all peoples of the United States. As long as he’s getting treatment, I’m sure we’re going to be OK. … It’s here. It’s not just about Africa. It’s about everybody. Everybody’s involved in this. It’s not just one group of people. We all need to be aware of it.”

Across North Texas, residents react

KERA's Courtney Collins spent time in another part of Dallas, talking with North Texans to get their reaction to the news that a man in a Dallas hospital has Ebola:

Across North Texas, residents react to Ebola in Dallas

"My name is Felicia Jones. I’m from Dallas, Texas, and I’m 30 years old. Frightened, scared, for not only me and my family but other people as well."

"My name is Forest Collins. I’m from Denton, Texas, and I’m 20 years old. It makes sense that it would be Dallas. It’s a huge trade center and commerce and everything. I’m not going to bar my doors or put hand sanitizer anywhere."

"My name is Sonja Rosenfeld and I’m from Dallas. Well, I’m only eating off plates of people that I know. Other than that, there’s really not much that you can do."

"Sharon Plugey from Dallas, Texas. We’re the country that can take care of it if anyone can. So I figure they’ll take care of it and now that it’s here maybe it’ll speed up the process.”

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.