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Ebola fears keep Dallas students home

DALLAS -- Worries over Ebola kept some Dallas schoolchildren home Thursday after school officials identified five students who may have come into contact with the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with the virus.

Dallas schools Superintendent Mike Miles said Thursday that attendance was down roughly 10 percent in the schools where the affected students were in class earlier this week. He said attendance Thursday was at 86 percent and is usually at 95 or 96 percent. He said teacher attendance had remained the same.

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Parents walk past the L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary school main entrance sign after dropping off their children holding sheets of paper with Ebola virus information handed to them by school administrators, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, in Dallas. Hotchkiss has been identified by the Dallas Independent School District as one of the schools where one or more of the students attend that came in contact with the man diagnosed with having the Ebola virus. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP

"We're down a bit but I think the message is getting out," Miles said, adding that additional nurses and health professionals will be staffed at the schools until next week.

Officials emphasize that the students have not shown any symptoms of Ebola and they believe the student population is safe. Still, state and county health officials on Thursday ordered four close family members of Thomas Eric Duncan stay at home and not have any visitors until at least October 19.

But there are already signs of parents taking no chances.

Yah Zuo left L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary on Thursday morning with her two children, including a 6-year-old daughter. Zuo hoped to enroll her elsewhere.

Zuo is of Liberian origin and said she knows the family of Duncan, the Ebola patient who traveled from Liberia to Dallas last week. She said she has not met Duncan since he arrived, but she has known some of the kids now in isolation.

"In situations like this, you cannot stay friends," Zuo said. "You have to protect the ones you love."

She added, "This virus is not something you play with."

It was not exactly clear how Duncan knew the students, but his sister said he had been visiting with family, including two nephews.

Yasmeen Scott, a bus driver for the district, walked her 8-year-old daughter, Akeelah, and 5-year-old son, Bishop, to the door of the school Thursday. She cautioned her kids to wash their hands as often as possible and said she's satisfied so far with what the district has told her about Ebola.

"I've got to work," Scott said, explaining her decision. "They have to go to school."

Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms appear, and then it can spread only by close contact with a patient's bodily fluids. State health officials said Thursday that more than 80 people are now being monitored for symptoms of Ebola in Texas.

Miles has said the district is acting out of an "abundance of caution" and would add more health workers to keep watch for symptoms among students. The district also deployed more custodial workers to the campuses, which include another elementary school, two middle schools and a high school.

"The students didn't have any symptoms, so the odds of them passing on any sort of virus is very low," Miles said.

Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 7,100 people in West Africa, and more than 3,300 deaths have been linked to the disease, according to the World Health Organization. Symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding, and can appear as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Officials have not revealed the ages of the children who had contact with the man.

Liberia plans to prosecute Duncan, alleging that he lied on a health questionnaire about not having any contact with an infected person, authorities said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii state Department of Health said Thursday that it has ruled out the possibility that a patient isolated at a Honolulu hospital has the Ebola virus, CBS affiliate KGMB reports.

The patient, an unidentified man, was admitted to Queen's Medical Center Wednesday after experiencing what hospital officials called "possible symptoms that may be consistent with Ebola."