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Health Officials Say This Week Will Be Critical For Dallas Ebola Contacts

[This post will be updated throughout the day.] This week will be a critical period for health officials who are trying to contain the Ebola virus, Texas  Department of Health and Human Services commissioner Dr. David Lakey said Tuesday afternoon.

Lakey called it a "very sensitive period" -- a time when a person who came in contact with a Dallas Ebola patient could potentially develop symptoms of the deadly virus.

“We’re monitoring with extreme vigilance,” Lakey said in a CDC briefing. “If a contact develops symptoms, we will tell you.”

Lakey reported the contact investigation is ongoing. The numbers haven’t changed from Sunday. Health officials continue to monitor 48 possible contacts. Ten of those are considered high-risk. Of those, seven are healthcare workers and three are relatives of the man with Ebola.

He also addressed concerns from locals about those who are being monitored for possible Ebola symptoms.

“I want to remind everyone that the people we are monitoring are real people,” he said. “I can’t think of anything more unnerving right now than [Ebola] as a weight, but we can and we will contain the spread of this disease.”

President Obama has said he would support increased screening measures at airports. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said that was something his agency was studying.

“We anticipate announcing new measures in the coming days,” Frieden said.

Frieden also said the experimental drug being used to treat Thomas Duncan, the Dallas Ebola patient, showed promise in a test tube model of the Ebola virus. What is critical, he said, is to get an Ebola patient’s basic care right. Duncan is on a ventilator and receiving kidney dialysis. 

4 p.m. Dallas County judge says he's not at risk of contracting Ebola

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who’s been playing a lead role in the Dallas Ebola investigation, says he’s not at risk for exposure to the deadly virus. He asked the Highland Park ISD to pass along a note to families since his child is enrolled in the district.

“Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who is an Armstrong Elementary parent, has been working with health officials on the day-to-day management of the situation. Jenkins worked directly with the family members with whom the Ebola patient stayed to ensure that they were safely relocated to another residence where they will continue to be monitored. According to reports, none of the family members have developed symptoms. Jenkins asked us to pass along the assurances of public health officials that he and his family are not at risk for exposure to Ebola as a result of his work on the case.”

Highland Park ISD nurses will continue to monitor students and staff for symptoms, the district says. Officials note that no Highland Park ISD students or employees have been identified as having a risk for exposure.

2 p.m. Watch today's Ebola briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

2:42 p.m. Perry visits Galveston facility that's working to develop Ebola vaccines

Gov. Rick Perry is calling the work of facilities like the Galveston National Laboratory - which is working to develop treatments and vaccines for Ebola - the best way to control the spread of the deadly virus.

Perry visited the lab on the island city of Galveston on Tuesday.

Two lab officials are part of a state task force Perry announced Monday. The task force will work to ensure Texas appropriately responds to infectious diseases like Ebola.

Thomas Geisbert, one of the lab's researchers, says the facility has been working on several treatments and vaccines for Ebola. One of the treatments - TKM-Ebola - was successfully used on Richard Sacra, a Massachusetts doctor who was treated last month in Nebraska after contracting the virus in West Africa.

Here's video of Perry's remarks:

1:36 p.m.: The Rev. Jesse Jackson will host a prayer vigil tonight.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says a prayer vigil will be held at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where the first man diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. is being treated.

Jackson spoke in Dallas today alongside the mother, son and other relatives of Thomas Eric Duncan.

Duncan has been in critical but stable condition at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Jackson says he'll join the family when they meet with doctors later today in hopes of seeing Duncan, who has been in isolation since his diagnosis last week.

The civil rights leader also called on the public to show compassion to Duncan and his family, not to ostracize them.

The vigil is scheduled for 5 p.m. 

1:08 p.m.: Ebola patient Thomas Duncan remains in critical condition.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas says Ebola patient Thomas Duncan is on a ventilator and receiving kidney dialysis. 

His liver function was declining over the weekend, the hospital said in a statement, but that has improved. Doctors say this could vary in the coming days. Duncan remains in critical condition.

10:55 a.m.: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says he’s not interested in playing the Ebola blame game.

KERA's BJ Austin reports that Jenkins will not join any speculation about who may have dropped the ball along the way in the handling of the nation’s first Ebola case in Dallas.

“I’m not interested in doing an analysis of the past,” Jenkins said at an Ebola update during this morning’s Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting. “I’m interested in getting better every 15 minutes to make sure we contain this virus and that it doesn’t spread.”

At the meeting, Commissioner John Wiley Price made a point of defending the county health department’s actions, and said someone has to address the “elephant in the room with regards to what happened” at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Ebola patient Thomas Duncan went to Presbyterian on Sept. 26 and told staff he had been in West Africa before he was sent home with antibiotics. He returned two days later, on Sept. 28, via ambulance.

State lawmakers are scrutinizing how medical officers handled the first Ebola case.  The Senate Health and Human Services committee holds a hearing on the issue this afternoon in Austin.

Original post: State lawmakers are scrutinizing how medical officials handled the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S.

The Texas Senate Health and Human Services committee will also assess the state’s readiness for coping with Ebola and other infectious diseases. A special committee hearing is set for today at 2 p.m. at the state capitol.

Ebola patient Thomas Duncan first visited Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas with a fever, but was initially sent home with antibiotics. He told a nurse he had traveled to Liberia. Duncan returned to the hospital days later and was put in isolation.

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry created a 17-member task force to address infectious diseases like Ebola. 

For yesterday's developments, read our Monday Ebola blog.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.