By Don Davis
Minnesota officials will allow people coming from countries affected by Ebola more freedom than controversial rules enacted by some states.
The Minnesota rules require quarantines for people who have exposed while treating Ebola patients, even if they themselves do not show symptoms of the often-deadly virus, but others will be mostly free to move around the state. Those showing Ebola symptoms would be hospitalized.
Minnesota health officials Monday began to monitor one person who recently returned from West Africa. State officials received reports of nearly 30 people, mostly from Hennepin County, who have come from affected areas in the past week, and monitoring may expand to include some of them.
Some states have imposed tighter measures, such as quarantining all medical workers returning to the United States from the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where nearly 5,000 have died in an Ebola outbreak.
Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, with just one now being treated.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger and other state health leaders Monday announced they will contact people returning from countries with an Ebola problem, then monitor them for three weeks, the incubation period of the virus. While the monitoring will be voluntary, Ehlinger said that he has the power to quarantine people for public safety reasons if they do not cooperate.
The governor said the plan is science based and should protect Minnesotans.
“We’re doing the worrying for the state of Minnesota,” Ehlinger said, joining Dayton in saying that Ebola is not easy to transmit so Minnesotans who have not been to the three specific African countries should be safe.
Director Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy said Minnesota is one of the states most prepared to battle Ebola if it shows up here.
However, unlike some threats, Osterholm added, Ebola will not go away quickly. “This is the crisis, potentially, of the year.”
The Minnesota plan relies on lists of people who have traveled to the three affected countries sent from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kris Ehresmann of the Health Department said the department will “interview the individuals; we will obtain information on their experiences while in Africa.”
A plan worked out over the weekend by a team of Minnesota-based experts requires the Health Department to monitor people who have provided health care in an affected country and others who have been in one of the countries, both those who have been known to be exposed to Ebola and those who have not been.
Ehresmann, director of the department’s Infection Disease, Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, said 30 to 40 people in the department are working full time on Ebola, with dozens of others in other state agencies also involved. Three Health Department workers are assigned full time to monitor people returning from West Africa, and Ehlinger said more will be assigned as needed.
Those being monitored will be forbidden from using use public transportation for trips longer than three hours and those with known Ebola exposure will not be able to use any public transit or attend mass gatherings.
Anyone who has treated an Ebola patient and has been exposed will be quarantined in his or her home.
All travelers coming from the three countries will be required to keep a log of all activities and close contacts for 21 days.
Ehlinger said his department’s Ebola team will make specific decisions on a case-by-case basis.
The commissioner said that monitoring will begin as a voluntary action, with the citizen taking his or her own temperature and reporting health conditions to the department twice a day. If any Ebola symptoms are shown, the person will be directed to a treatment center.