Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference, acting Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan at back
A Vermont man is under a voluntary Ebola quarantine after returning to the United States yesterday from a monthlong trip to West Africa. He claimed to be helping to fight the deadly disease there, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced at an emergency press conference at the Department of Health in Burlington.
The man, whom officials did not identify, is not showing any symptoms of the virus and is considered "low risk," Shumlin said. He is in a "rural" community in housing arranged by state officials. Health department workers are visiting him twice a day.
"The person has no signs or symptoms of illness and isn't a high risk to anyone at this time," Shumlin said. "This is extremely low risk in my judgment. However, we're going to take every reasonable precaution to keep the public safe."
The man reportedly said he is a doctor and was traveling to Sierra Leone and Guinea to help in the Ebola outbreak. But he does not have a medical license in Vermont, and aid groups operating in West Africa turned him away, Shumlin said. He was apparently traveling alone.
After the press conference, Rutland Mayor Chris Louras released a statement confirming that the man is a resident of his city.
"On October 27th, a Rutland resident returned from West Africa and due to the uncertainty surrounding his intentions while there, officials have determined that the right thing to do was to offer the opportunity to voluntarily self-quarantine for the disease’s 21-day incubation period," Louras said. "Over the last several days, the City of Rutland and the State of Vermont have been working tirelessly and collaboratively to find a safe, secure location for this Rutland resident, and we have been successful."
The man, whom Shumlin said had "good intentions," told Vermont officials that he did not treat any patients with Ebola. But the governor acknowledged that officials have little information about what the man did during his month in West Africa.
"We don't know exactly where he was or what he did," Shumlin said.
Acquaintances of the man notified Vermont officials of their concern about his travels, Shumlin said. The man is cooperating fully with the quarantine, the governor added.
"He went over with good intentions but was not affiliated with any public health organization and so didn't benefit from some of the protections that those organizations provide," said acting Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan, who characterized him as "low risk, but uncertain risk."
Ebola is contagious only if a patient displays symptoms. The man will be monitored for 21 days, the full incubation period for the virus.
Vermont law enforcement and health officials met him at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City when his flight from West Africa landed yesterday afternoon, Shumlin said. The man was not notified that he would be met by the team, but officials had advance notice of when he was arriving.
If the man develops Ebola symptoms, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington is prepared to treat him, Shumlin said.
Department of Health workers are visiting the man in teams of two, taking his temperature and speaking with him for a few minutes. So far, four workers have seen him.
The workers do not have special training, according to officials. They are not wearing protective gear because the man is not displaying symptoms.
While repeatedly characterizing the man as being in "voluntary" quarantine, Shumlin ducked a question about whether he could have chosen not to come to Vermont with the team that met him at the airport yesterday.
If necessary, the man could be placed under a mandatory quarantine under an order from the health department, the governor said. "If we deem it necessary to establish an involuntary quarantine, we have the ability to do so," Shumlin said.
When asked to compare his handling of this situation to that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — whose mandatory quarantine order for a nurse returning from West Africa was controversial — Shumlin said: "In Vermont, we respect each other's privacy, and we all recognize we have a responsibility to keep Ebola out of the state of Vermont. We're trying to do this the Vermont way."