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I received an email this morning from Ms. Amanda Sanchez, who works in the Office of the Mayor of the City of Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings. The message was sent to numerous faith community leaders in North Texas, inviting them to participate in a conference call with the Mayor that took place today at 2:00pm CDT. I took notes, and I am publishing a summary of the briefing here for your information and convenience.
The Mayor opened the call expressing his gratitude for our time, and he acknowledged that the City’s experience with Ebola in recent days has felt like a “roller coaster” — things get worse, things get better, things get worse, things get better. He believes that things will end well, and he exhorted us to “be honest with each other,” which became a consistent theme in the conference call. The Mayor felt that this conference call was necessary because there is a felt shift in the psyche of our city from last week to this week regarding its fear associated with Ebola. Last week, our community was cautious; this week, the Mayor feels our community is afraid.
He asked us to recall West Nile Virus scare that happened upon North Texas not long ago. He reminded us about the West Nile outbreak that swept through Dallas County in 2012. According to D Magazine,
In total, there were 397 reported cases in Dallas County, and 20 people died.
My words, not the Mayor’s — I had forgotten about West Nile already, and if you think about it, mosquitos are way more sneaky than vomiting, bleeding, diarrhea-ing, even sneezing humans. Just a thought.
Only two — 2 — people have been infected with Ebola, since Mr. Duncan’s diagnosis and care here in Dallas.
The Mayor commented on the “community contacts” and “health care contacts.” Regarding the former, 48 people have been self-isolated. One family remains in controlled isolation. An additional individual who had been in controlled isolation recently finished the 21-day “incubation period,” and this person is healthy. On Monday, October 20th, the family in controlled in isolation and those who have been self-isolated will also finish the 21-day “incubation period.” None have shown any symptoms associated with Ebola.
Regarding the “health care contacts,” the Mayor acknowledged that we were naive to think that the hospital was the “safer place.” My commentary here—it seems that the focus had to be heavily placed on the “community contacts” at first, and initially, some assumptions were made about the safety of the hospital; however, the insufficiencies that did exist have been remedied. The Mayor complimented the health care workers who served Mr Duncan, calling them brave, courageous, of whom we are proud, and for whom we are thankful. 75 total health care workers were in some way involved in Mr. Duncan’s care — some in the lab work, some in the room wherein Mr. Duncan was treated. All of these people have been in communication with the proper authorities. They have been assigned a document asking them to avoid travel on all means of public transportation as well as to avoid public places, such as grocery stores, places of worship, etc. All of them are visited twice daily, so that there body temperature can be examined. They have all been invited to come to Presbyterian Hospital should they desire assistance in their self isolation. I can’t remember if the Mayor said one dozen or two dozen have taken advantage of this offer. Further, the Mayor added that violation of compliance with the travel and public restrictions would lead to a more controlled environment for their isolation.
Mayor Rawlings reviewed that the two health care workers who became infected with Ebola — Ms. Pham and Ms. Vinson — have been moved to biomedical facilities in Maryland and Georgia, so that Texas Presbyterian could both better manage those in continued and various degrees of isolation and be ready to receive any new case that may arise. He assured us that there is cooperation at the City, County, State, CDC, and Federal level, commentating that he had spoken with the White House earlier today. The President gave his support for Federal Aid as needed. In his assurance, he was not trying to say that we are “out of the woods” yet. This next week is critical, and honestly, we should expect to see another case or two; however, he and those working with him do not envision a widespread epidemic due to the precautions that have been taken.
After briefing us on the state of the situation, Mayor Rawlings then appealed to us as faith leaders in the City of Dallas. He made four salient points. First, he exhorted us to “confront fear with the facts.” This has been the constant message from all of those dealing with the media and public. No one is keeping anything from anyone, and he commented that the coming weeks will reveal this to be true. He asked us to encourage our congregations to depend on the facts, evidence, and reason, not on our emotions. Second, he challenged faith leaders and our communities regarding ostracizing those who may have had contact with Mr. Duncan and ostracizing those communities in which these folks have their residence. Judge Jenkins has received numerous reports about ostracism. He advised that we can support these individuals, families AND practice good, public safety. It isn’t an either/or. He asked us to consider some of the realities, for example, the Duncan family is facing: Where will they live? Many apartments are saying, “We do not want the ‘Ebola people’ here.” Mayor Rawlings said, “Our city is better than that.” We must practice compassion as well as intelligence.
He closed with a challenge and commendation to faith leaders, saying that we “know the words that uplift and heal.” He asked us to share these things with our congregants and to direct them to the City’s website for further information.
Following Mayor Rawlings’ address, Dr. John T. Carlo addressed us on the conference call. He reminded us of the facts about Ebola’s spread. It is not contagious in someone not showing symptoms. It is not airborne. In order to infect, a bodily fluid has to travel from a symptomatic person to an “opening” on another person. Research has been gathered by professionals who have treated Ebola both here and in West Africa. Dr. Carlo dismissed the need to “shut down” schools and/or decontaminate based upon the available research and evidence.
A brief Q & A time proceeded. Question #1: How do we support city officials and health care workers? Mayor Rawlings suggested that we raise up these individuals, especially the health care workers, as heroines and heroes. They are brave. Question #2: What is the one message we should deliver from “the pulpit” this weekend? God willing, we will come through this, and we will have gained much wisdom that we will be able to use and share with others both here and around the world. The Mayor then shared that the President of Liberia called him and personally apologized and shared feelings of personal responsibility. The Mayor expressed again his concern about ostracism toward “community contacts,” “health care contacts,” and even those in our City who are of West African descent.
In conclusion, I think we have to heed the Mayor’s call not to ostracize, nor should we avoid exercising care and wisdom. I think the gospel calls us to this. Remember, it’s sin, not Ebola, that is our BIGGEST problem. My thanks to the Mayor and city officials who took the time to address these things with us.