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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermonter At 'Extremely Low Risk' For Ebola In Voluntary Quarantine After Returning From West Africa

Taylor Dobbs
A Vermont man has been voluntarily quarantined after returning from West Africa. Vermont Comissioner of Health Tracy Dolan and Gov. Peter Shumlin say this poses very little risk to public health.

A Vermont man is in voluntary quarantine to prevent risk of spreading the Ebola virus after he returned this week from West Africa. Officials say the unnamed man was attempting to help in Ebola-affected areas of Guinea and Sierra Leone. But they said he does not have symptoms of the deadly disease.

Update 6:00 p.m. At a hastily arranged news conference, Gov. Peter Shumlin and state officials provided few details about the man and his mission in Africa. Shumlin said state health and law enforcement officials met the man when he landed Monday afternoon at JFK airport in New York. The governor says Vermont law enforcement officers drove the man back to Vermont, where he agreed to enter what the governor described as a voluntary quarantine.

Shumlin said state officials learned about the man’s travels from people who were concerned about his trip and the risk of disease when he returned. He said the person has agreed to remain isolated in a rural location for three weeks.

“I want to emphasize this is a voluntary arrangement, and that this individual does not have an elevated temperature, has no signs or symptoms of illness and is not a health risk to anyone at this time,” the governor said..

Shumlin and acting Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan said the man was attempting to help with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. They said the man was not working with an organized aid group and therefore his travels and actions were not supported or properly monitored.

The Health Department will work in teams of two to visit the man twice daily to monitor his health during the 21-day quarantine. Because the man is not showing symptoms, officials said there is no need for the workers to wear protective gear.

"This person has low risk, but uncertain risk, because we're simply not sure of all the details of what went on in Sierra Leone and Guinea in this person's travel." - Acting Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan

  If he does get sick, officials said the man will be transported to a medical facility capable of treating him.

“And we’re very hopeful that the person remains asymptomatic,” Dolan said. “This person has low risk, but uncertain risk, because we’re simply not sure of all the details of what went on in Sierra Leone and Guinea in this person’s travel."

Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras posted on his Facebook page that the man in question is a Rutland resident. In an interview, Louras said the man spent Monday night at the Rodeway Inn in Rutland before officials could find him housing.

Louras would not provide the man’s name or his age. The mayor said the public is not at risk.

“So for the 16 hours he was in Rutland there was absolutely no risk to public health or safety. He was asymptomatic and as well he was quarantined and did not have any contact with the public in those 16 hours,” Louras said.

Shumlin said the man is staying in housing that the state has arranged. He said the state is paying for the man’s expenses.

“In fairness to him and his anonymity, I’m not going to be too specific about his location, except to say that he is in a rural location,” Shumlin said. “He’s safe. We have law enforcement there as well as health care providers who are monitoring him whenever necessary.”

Shumlin said the man was in West Africa for about a month, apparently to provide care for Ebola victims. But the governor said the man is not a physician in Vermont.

“He has represented himself – and he did I believe when he entered West Africa – as a doctor or a health care professional. All I can tell you is that he’s not licensed as a doctor or health care professional in Vermont,” the governor said.

Although the man told officials he went to West Africa to aid Ebola victims, Shumlin said the man also told the state that he did not have contact with people who were sick with the disease.

Update 4:08 p.m. Rutland mayor Chris Louras confirmed in a statement on his Facebook page that the quarantined man is a Rutland resident.

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.

From original post 2:58 p.m. The individual, who spent approximately one month in Guinea and Sierra Leone, is at an undisclosed building guarded by law enforcement, according to Shumlin.

Shumlin stated that if the individual presents symptoms and the Vermont Department of Health deems involuntary quarantine of the individual necessary, he is "ready, willing, and able" to act.

The press conference came on the tails of an Ebola preparedness forum held at Fletcher Allen Health Care, where officials said earlier this month that they "assume they'll get somebody" with Ebola — either a traveler or a health care worker — and have been actively preparing for such a case.

A number of Vermont health care workers have been working in West African countriesto help treat patients with the disease in those countries.

Find more information on Ebola from the Vermont Department of Health here.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
Angela Evancie serves as Vermont Public's Senior VP of Content, and was the Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
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