DALLAS (CBS SF/AP) — The Frontier Airlines jet on which the most recent Ebola patient flew was not pulled out of service until after seven flights, allowing hundreds more passengers to come into contact with the enclosed area where the nurse flew before learning that she had tested positive.
The commercial jet is now in Denver, out of service while workers remove seat covers, carpeting and air filters near her seat. Meanwhile, the government jet that flew the Ebola patient to Atlanta on Wednesday will have its seats and furnishings ripped out and incinerated, even though she traveled inside a bio-containment suit and within a special containment cell the entire time.
The Denver Post reports the Frontier flight numbers affected were:
• Flight 1142: Dallas to Cleveland (Ebola patient Joy Vinson was on this flight on October 10th, before showing symptoms)
• Flight 1143: Dallas to Cleveland (Vinson traveled back home on this flight on October 13th while showing symptoms)
After Vinson flew on Monday, October 13th, the following flights were made:
• Flight 2042: Dallas to Cleveland, October 14th
• Flight 1104: Cleveland to Fort Lauderdale, October 14th
• Flight 1105: Fort Lauderdale to Cleveland, October 14th
• Flight 1101: Cleveland to Atlanta, October 14th
• Flight 1100: Atlanta to Cleveland, October 14th
Frontier Airlines is expanding the circle of passengers being notified that they flew with a nurse who later tested positive for Ebola, or flew on a later flight using the same plane.
The airline said that it would contact passengers on seven flights, not just the two flights the nurse took.
Frontier’s president said that “a handful” of customers have called to cancel reservations since news broke about the nurse’s travel on Frontier flights, and that the airline dropped a fare sale scheduled for this week.
The executive, Barry Biffle, declined to give figures but told The Associated Press that ticket sales were “not outside the bounds of normal booking ranges” for a midweek day.
The plane spent Thursday sitting in a hangar at the Denver airport. Frontier officials said crews have cleaned it several times, but they were not sure when it would resume flying.
The airline put two pilots and four flight attendants on paid leave for 21 days — health experts consider that the outer limit of how long it would take someone exposed to Ebola to become sick.
Biffle said that the airline first notified passengers who were on Amber Joy Vinson’s flight from Dallas to Cleveland last Friday and her return flight to Dallas on Monday night. He said the airline later decided to notify people who flew on the same plane on five other flights Tuesday, before the CDC told Frontier about Vinson’s diagnosis.
The passengers were told how to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if they had health concerns. The CDC has downplayed risk of exposure to other passengers, saying that the Ebola virus is not airborne and is transmitted only by contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.
Vinson is the second nurse to develop Ebola after caring for a man who flew from Liberia to Belgium, then to Washington and Dallas. The man died Oct. 8 in a Dallas hospital. Both nurses remained hospitalized on Thursday.
Frontier grounded the plane on Wednesday morning and planned to put it back in service that evening. Instead, the plane flew without passengers from Cleveland to Frontier’s home in Denver, where it was towed into a hangar. The airline has said it will replace seat covers, carpeting and air filters around Vinson’s seat.
BAY AREA EFFECTS:
Amid increasing anxiety over the Ebola response in Texas, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States is calling on President Obama to mandate uniform standards and protocols for the treatment of the virus.
Deborah Berger, who is co-president of the Oakland-based National Nurses United, said they have been contacted by nurses from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas reporting ill-preparation by the hospital that treated Ebola patient Thomas Duncan, including leaving him in areas with other patients and sending his lab specimens though the hospital’s pneumatic tube delivery system for sending samples.
“The result is that the entire tube system, [through] which all lab specimens are sent, was potentially contaminated,” she said at a Wednesday press conference.
Executive director of NNU Rose Ann DeMoro said the union has sent a letter to the president, urging him to mandate hospitals provide full bio-containment suits, hands-on training, a 2:1 nurse-to-patient staffing ratio and more for Ebola cases.
Although California has no confirmed cases of Ebola, Bay Area public health officials aren’t taking any chances.
Amy Nichols, Director of Infection Control at UCSF, said hospital workers are regularly trained in infection prevention.
“They’re the same strategies that were in place in the early ‘80s when HIV came on the scene. As a matter of fact that’s what drove many of these strategies. They work when they’re done correctly,” she said.
Ebola patients aren’t contagious until they start displaying symptoms so it’s critical that if hospitals start seeing people with flu-like symptoms who have either traveled to or been in contact with someone in an Ebola-infected area, they let officials know immediately.
As the CDC and Department of Homeland Security beefed up screening at five of the nation’s busiest international airports in early October, federal officials could decide if California airports are next, depending on the number of international passengers and travel patterns.
San Francisco International and Los Angeles International airports already have CDC quarantine centers that are ready when needed, but unlike the five airports doing the screenings, none of the three Bay Area international airports have direct flights to Africa.
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