DALLAS – A hazardous-materials crew on Friday decontaminated the Texas apartment where an Ebola patient was staying when he got sick, while public-health officials cut by half the number of people being monitored for any symptoms of the deadly disease.
Hours later, the family that was living in the apartment was moved to a private residence in a gated community that was offered by a volunteer.
The decontamination team was to collect bed sheets, towels and a mattress used by the infected man before he was hospitalized, as well as a suitcase and other personal items belonging to Thomas Eric Duncan, officials said.
The materials were sealed in industrial barrels that were to be stored in trucks until they can be hauled away for permanent disposal.
Federal transportation and disease-control officials issued an emergency special permit Friday to allow an Illinois-based company to haul away and dispose of the materials — not only from the apartment but also any from the hospital where Duncan is receiving treatment.
The first Ebola diagnosis in the U.S. has raised concerns about whether the disease that has killed 3,400 people in West Africa could spread in the U.S. Federal health officials say they are confident they can keep it in check.
Elsewhere, NBC News reported that an American freelance cameraman working for the network in Liberia has tested positive for the virus and will be flown back to the United States, along with the rest of the news crew.
Neighbors stood on their balconies and watched the family's grim departure from behind a black tarp hung to shield their front door from view.
The family was placed in a Dallas County deputy's patrol car and driven away, apparently leaving with nothing more than the clothes they wore.
The residence where they will stay had been offered only a short time earlier. Until then, a search for shelter had come up short. The city had been refused by hotels, apartments and other providers.
"No one wants this family," said Sana Syed, a Dallas city spokeswoman.
The family was confined to their home under armed guard while public-health officials monitored them — part of an intense effort to contain the deadly disease before it can get a foothold in the United States.
Louise Troh, originally from Liberia, shares the apartment with her 13-year-old son and two nephews.
When the decontamination is complete, even the crew's protective suits are to be burned, said Tamara Smith, office manager for the Cleaning Guys of Fort Worth.
Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County's top administrative official, said he went to the apartment with two epidemiologists to apologize for the delay in removing the soiled items, which happened five days after Duncan was admitted to the hospital.
"I want to see this family treated the way I would want to see my own family treated," Jenkins said.
The confinement order, which also bans visitors, was imposed after the family failed to comply with a request to stay home.
Also Friday, Texas health officials said they had narrowed the number of people they were monitoring from as many as 100 to about 50 who had some type of exposure to Duncan.
Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey said all 50 are meeting with health workers and having their temperatures taken daily. So far, none shows symptoms of the virus. Ten are considered to be at higher risk and are being monitored more closely.
The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids — blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen — of an infected person who is showing symptoms.
Troh's 35-year-old daughter lives a few blocks away in a small apartment with her partner and four children. The two families often visited each other's homes.
Health officials have told Youngor Jallah to keep her family at home. But unlike at her mother's apartment, there are no armed guards preventing them from leaving.
She's now wracked with regret that she did not take greater precautions in her dealings with Duncan.
"I'm just doubting myself every minute," she said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm trying to take my mind off it, but I can't do it."
She is not kissing or hugging her children, ages 2, 4 and 6, or her partner's 11-year-old son, or sharing dishes with them.
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. After an initial visit to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, he was sent home, even though he told a nurse he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa.
He returned to the hospital two days later, on Sunday, and has been kept in isolation ever since. He's listed in serious but stable condition.