Minnesota sets Ebola monitoring plan

Published 9:34 am Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials outlined plans Monday for monitoring travelers from countries battling Ebola, and said the most-severe restrictions will be imposed only on those known to have treated someone with the virus while abroad.

The new framework announced by Gov. Mark Dayton and leading public health officials calls for quarantine only when a traveler has treated an Ebola patient and been exposed to the virus. In such a case, the traveler will be restricted to their home for 21 days. Any traveler exposed to Ebola will be banned from public transit and mass gatherings.

In making the announcement, Health Department Commissioner Ed Ehlinger stressed that the risk of transmission remains low in Minnesota while acknowledging that combatting misinformation is still a formidable challenge. He said the state’s plan should assure people that precautions are being taken.

“They don’t have to worry because we are worrying about it,” Ehlinger said.

For most travelers from the three hardest-hit West African countries who have no known exposure to Ebola, the requirements are less rigid. They will get twice-daily monitoring by the Minnesota Department of Health by phone to be on the lookout for fever, body aches and other symptoms associated with Ebola. Those being monitored also have to keep a log of all their activities and the people they come in contact with for the 21-day period that Ebola incubates.

Twenty six people have been identified for monitoring so far, Ehlinger said. They are people who listed Minnesota as a final destination on trips that originated from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Government leaders are relying on cooperation with the guidelines and said they would invoke legal quarantine powers as a last resort if there is concern someone poses a significant health risk.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota issued a statement raising concern about the home detention being involuntary and excessive because it covers people who aren’t exhibiting actual symptoms. Executive Director Charles Samuelson said people shouldn’t be forcibly detained without court order.

Kris Ehresmann, director of the state’s infectious disease prevention efforts, responded that the agency would go to court if someone was uncooperative and deemed a public health risk.

Humanitarian organizations with Minnesota ties have aid workers involved in the Ebola fight, and the state has one of the largest Liberian immigrant communities in the U.S.

Dayton said he hopes the “fear factor” about Ebola doesn’t cause people to ostracize others because of their nationality or they’ve recently traveled abroad.

Dayton said such treatment is “un-American. It’s certainly un-Minnesotan.”