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Costs of Ebola Test Dallas County

DALLAS (CN) - Dallas County should perform Ebola testing locally, as its costs for containing the deadly disease have risen above $1 million, county officials said Tuesday.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price mentioned the costs at the commissioners court meeting Tuesday morning. Noting the county's dwindling cash reserves, Price said the "money has to come from somewhere."

It is unknown how much emergency funding the county will receive from state and federal officials. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the immediate concern is on protecting the community from the disease.

"What I have been told by the state and federal government at the executive levels is [to] not let money stand in the way of getting this done," Jenkins said.

Dallas County Health Director Zac Thompson told the commissioners court that it would be cheaper and faster to do the tests in the county rather than at the Texas Department of State Health in Austin.

Thompson has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to certify the county lab for Ebola testing.

"There have been other labs approved in the United States ... so if they are calling this 'ground zero,' we should have the ability to do testing here," Thompson said. "Dr. [Edward] Bannister and our bioterrorism staff are the tops in the country."

Price pointed out the 400-mile round-trip drive to Austin "makes no sense at all" in cost or time.

Thompson again asked for the public's patience as public health authorities put guidelines into place as they wade into "uncharted territory."

He said his staff has had Ebola information translated into as many languages as possible, as they reach out to residents in the M-Streets area of east Dallas.

Thompson reported that out of the 48 nonmedical-staff contacts identified by the CDC, zero have shown any symptoms so far for Ebola.

He said the 18 Presbyterian medial staffers who treated the late Thomas Eric Duncan are being monitored, and are not included in that number.

Duncan, of Liberia, died of Ebola on Oct. 8 while under quarantine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. One of his nurses, Nina Pham, 26, of Dallas, tested positive for the disease Saturday evening and has been in quarantine since.

Thompson said he would ask the commissioners for additional funding to increase staffing in his department.

County commissioners also discussed several suburbs that want information from the county on monitored Ebola contacts living in their cities. They want the information for first responders who may be called to contacts' homes.

"I can understand that first responders would want to know that," County Commissioner Mike Cantrell said. "So if addresses are not going to be disclosed, protocols need to be put in place so they can be properly attired and have that knowledge" as opposed to finding out at their front door.

Jenkins said it would "most likely" not be a city's first responder picking a contact up, that first responders will be getting that information peer-to-peer.

Hospital officials said Tuesday they are "working tirelessly" to help Pham in her recovery and "remain hopeful."

"I'm doing well and want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers," Pham said in a statement. "I am blessed by the support of family and friends and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world here at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas."

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