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Ebola Scares Off Tutors as Dallas Virus Spurs Immigrant Dread

Tuesday, 07 October 2014 07:56 PM

Widening fears that immigrants could be the source of Ebola are prompting some Dallas employers to send home workers, restaurants to turn away customers and pizza delivery drivers to avoid certain neighborhoods, local officials and residents say.

After word spread that a Liberian immigrant from a nearby apartment complex was diagnosed with the deadly virus last month, volunteers at the Heart House community center stopped showing up to tutor children in the after-school program, said Executive Director Lenita Dunlap.

“It’s difficult to get the e-mails or phone calls that they’re not going to come,” said Dunlap, whose Heart House is in the neighborhood that’s become the epicenter of the Ebola scare in the U.S. Some of the center’s children from Africa have been telling stories about facing “this stigma that ‘Hey, you brought this over here,’ ” Dunlap said.

Soothing fears and tamping down panic has become a focus for health officials and political leaders in Dallas. The Reverend Jesse Jackson arrived in the city today with Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan’s mother to preach tolerance and compassion during a hospital vigil he led for the infected man. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings condemned what he described as “fear-mongering” that was making the city’s problems worse.

“People who aren’t here to help solve the problems should get out of the way,” Rawlings said in an interview today with Bloomberg News.

Rising Fears

In the immigrant community of Dallas’s Vickery Meadow, which Dunlap calls “this beautiful place of diversity,” the Ebola scare has made African immigrants a target of fear and resentment. It’s the same sentiments that made Central American children targets of vitriol in Texas following the wave of border crossings earlier this year, though this time over a public health menace that originated outside U.S. borders.

The immigrant backlash has complicated efforts to keep people calm as health officials work to prevent the disease from spreading.

“We should never be surprised by people reacting out of fear to protect themselves,” Wilshire Baptist Church pastor George Mason, whose parishioner, Louise Troh, was to marry Duncan, said in a telephone interview today. “What we should remember is, it’s the lowest form of human nature.”

Contagion Worries

Brent Barry, a pastor at NorthPark Presbyterian Church, a quarter mile from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Duncan is in critical condition and receiving Chimerix Inc.’s experimental drug brincidofovir, said he’s spent much of his time this past week trying to galvanize aid efforts in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood.

The work has been challenging because many people wrongly believe anyone from the area is at risk of spreading Ebola, he said. Barry said he’s received reports of people from the neighborhood being turned away from restaurants and being asked not to show up for work because of fears they might carry the virus.

The negative attention focused on the community following Duncan’s diagnosis has made life there more difficult for residents, said Barry.

They’re “confused, overwhelmed, uncertain, scared and in some places shunned, ostracized because of who they are and where they live,” Barry said in a telephone interview. “People have fear; they hear Vickery Meadow and people get scared.”

Stay Home

Fifteen residents of the neighborhood were told by their employers not to come to work for 21 days, even though they’re not under quarantine orders from public health officials, said Jennifer Staubach Gates, a Dallas City Council member whose district includes Vickery Meadow.

“These are people who can’t afford to be out of work for 21 days,” Gates said in a telephone interview today. “People don’t like to call it discrimination, but I don’t think there’s any other word you can use for it.”

Cecil Camper, 47, who manages a Domino’s Pizza location just blocks from the Ivy Apartments, where Duncan stayed with his girlfriend, said he is allowing his six drivers to stop deliveries to the complex until further notice.

“It was my decision,” Camper said. “When it initially happened, my drivers were just fearful.”

Calls by some national politicians to restrict travel from Ebola-afflicted countries is hitting home for Alben Tarty, spokesman for the Liberian Community Association of Dallas/Fort Worth. He fears the rhetoric will aggravate the backlash against people of West African descent.

African Stigma

“That alone has a tendency to make other people stay away from those Africans that already are in the U.S.,” Tarty said in a telephone interview.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials will announce additional measures soon to prevent the transmission of Ebola into the U.S., Tom Frieden, its director, said in a call with reporters today. Suggestions include taking temperatures of incoming passengers and making them fill out questionnaires.

Frieden stopped short of considering a travel ban, saying leaders of Ebola-affected countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are willing to ramp up safety efforts.

Jackson Vigil

In Dallas, concerns about discrimination in the community and the level of care provided to Duncan prompted Jackson, the Chicago-based civil rights activist, to come to town today to meet with Duncan’s mother, Nowah Gartay, and hold a vigil at the hospital where Duncan is being treated.

Jackson said Duncan should have been given experimental drugs immediately following his hospitalization. Texas Health Presbyterian said the drugs were first administered six days later, on Oct. 4.

“He just wants the same treatment and consideration given in Georgia and Nebraska,” Jackson said, referring to the two humanitarian workers who were brought from Liberia to be treated in Atlanta for Ebola, and the NBC cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was brought to Omaha for treatment.

At Heart House, Dunlap is trying to stay positive even as the lack of volunteers is hurting the nonprofit’s mission to serve the neighborhood children.

“This is an opportunity to talk about a bigger problem,” she said. And when the volunteers are ready to return, “We wholeheartedly welcome them back with no stigma, no drama.”

© Copyright 2018 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Widening fears that immigrants could be the source of Ebola are prompting some Dallas employers to send home workers, restaurants to turn away customers and pizza delivery drivers to avoid certain neighborhoods, local officials and residents say.After word spread that a...
Ebola, Dallas, virus, Jackson
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 07:56 PM
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