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Ebola update: Minnesota hotline open; travel restrictions in place

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The Minnesota Department of Health has set up a telephone hotline for residents to call if they have questions about the Ebola virus.

The department announced the new outreach effort Monday.

“Minnesota’s best defense against Ebola is access to reliable information and resources,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. “This hotline will provide Minnesotans a reliable point of contact for any questions or concerns they have about this disease.”

The numbers for the Ebola Information Line are 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903. It will be staffed from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Translation services are available to help callers who don't speak English.

Information about Ebola is also available on the Minnesota Department of Health website.

The department has been holding public forums to explain more about the deadly virus and what steps are being taken to prevent it from spreading to Minnesota, which is home to a large population of immigrants from west Africa, where Ebola has spread rapidly.

Travel restrictions announced

Travelers who fly to the United States from one of the affected West African countries will have to arrive at one of the five U.S. airports that have Ebola screening protocols in place, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.

Those airports began the enhanced screening about a week ago. They are: New York's JFK, Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare, New Jersey's Newark and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta international airports.

The screenings and travel restrictions apply to people who traveled recently to, from or through Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three countries with serious Ebola outbreaks, USA Today reports.

Enhanced screenings include having the passenger fill out a health declaration and travel history form; having his or her temperature taken; and visual assessment for signs of Ebola symptoms.

According to Homeland Security, the travel restrictions should affect only about nine travelers per day who would have arrived at other airports.

Minnesota political leaders had requested last week that Minneapolis-St. Paul International be added to the list of airports with enhanced screening because of the state's large West African population.

According to KARE 11, no direct flights from West Africa land at the Twin Cities airport. The airport has a quarantine area for passengers arriving from overseas, but that has been the case for years and is not related to the Ebola epidemic, the station says.

St. Paul woman going to Sierra Leone to help ill father

Despite the many warnings against travel to West Africa, St. Paul resident Mariama Kpaka-Sengita is preparing to return to her native Sierra Leone to help her father, who is ill with Ebola, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Kpaka-Sengita, 31, said she doesn't plan to physically care for her father; rather, her family has been told they need to pay a bribe of up to $5,000 for their father to be admitted to a hospital for treatment.

Kpaka-Sengita, who is a U.S. citizen, told the paper she will ask the U.S. embassy in Sierra Leone to intervene in her father's case, according to the Pioneer Press.

She's an employee of the St. Paul school district, and has been given a leave of absence for her travel, but she will have to meet several conditions when she returns before she can return to work, to assure that she has not contracted the Ebola virus, the Pioneer Press notes.

Kpaka-Sengita has set up a fundraising campaign on the gofundme website, to pay for food, medical supplies and school supplies for Ebola victims. She plans to leave for Sierra Leone on Oct. 26 and return to the Twin Cities on Nov. 15.

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