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Ebola virus takes personal toll on Minnesota families of victims


While governmental and public agencies scramble to design and implement a plan for Ebola, Minnesotans with ties to the region are forced to deal with their own personal tragedies perpetrated by the deadly virus.

MPR News spoke with Decontee Sawyer of Coon Rapids, whose husband Patrick Sawyer died in Lagos, Nigeria three months ago, after contracting the virus.

His death, MPR News says, meant Decontee Sawyer and the couple's children should be receiving Social Security benefits, and officials with the agency even got all the necessary paperwork handled – except for Patrick Sawyer's death certificate, which officials need before the Sawyer family can receive those benefits.

Decontee Sawyer told MPR she's contacted officials in Liberia and Nigeria, but they haven't sent her the document. His health records and cremated ashes are also not in her possession. A spokesperson for Sen. Al Franken told MPR their office is working to find a solution.

Patrick Sawyer was a consultant at the Liberian Finance Ministry. He died from the virus in July, raising alarms at the time because it meant Ebola had arrived in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city, the Wall Street Journal reported.

He was due to come back to Minnesota weeks later for two of his daughters’ birthdays, the station reports.

Meanwhile, a St. Paul Public School District employee heading to Sierra Leone to be with her Ebola-stricken father has canceled her plans, the Pioneer Press reports.

Mariama Kpaka-Sengita, a 31-year-old mother of two, said earlier this week she had gotten permission from the school district to tend to her ailing father, as long as she quarantined herself for 21 days upon return before coming back to work, KSTP reported. While her family tried to convince her not to go, she told the station health workers in Sierra Leone refused to treat her father unless a fee of $5,000 was paid.

But on Friday, Kpaka-Sengita told the Pioneer Press she was canceling her trip over fears she would not be able to return to the U.S.

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As of Oct. 19, the World Health Organization says there have been 9,936 cases of Ebola in the world this year, 4,877 of which resulted in death. Nearly all of those have been in three countries – Guinea, Liberia and the Sierra Leone. In the latter country alone, 1,259 people have died from the virus.

Outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria were declared over in the past week.

Preparations in Minnesota

On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health held a tabletop exercise, designed to review the state’s response plan, as well as bring agencies together to confirm their roles and responsibilities if Ebola makes its way to the state.

State health officials also plan to begin monitoring incoming travelers from West Africa, possibly as soon as next week.

As part of the procedure, public health nurses or epidemiologists in Minnesota will contact travelers who may have been exposed to Ebola for 21 days – the incubation period for Ebola – after arriving in Minnesota to see if they have Ebola-like symptoms.

At the airport, travelers will also receive a CARE (check and report Ebola) kit, which contains information on Ebola symptoms, a tracking log and a thermometer, which will help them monitor their health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday as part of its post-arrival monitoring.

Minnesota officials also plan to gather information on if the person has any intention of traveling during the incubation period.

Starting Monday, travelers arriving in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Georgia from West African will undergo this monitoring, the CDC says. The CDC plans to extend these checks to all states next week.

FOX 9 reports state officials plan to designate one hospital in the state as the Ebola treatment center, but which hospital that will be is still undecided.

Nationwide Ebola news

Health officials in New York are on high alert after a doctor in New York City – who recently returned to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Africa – tested positive for the virus, the New York Times reports. The man, Craig Spencer, was placed in isolation as officials attempted to recreate his movements through the city over the past several days, identifying people he may have had contact with, the paper reports.

And Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who became the second person to ever contract Ebola on U.S. soil, was declared free of the virus and discharged from the hospital Friday, USA Today reports. She had treated Thomas Duncan, who right now remains the only person to have died from Ebola inside the U.S.

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