Passengers on a cruise ship carrying a Dallas health care worker who handled specimens of an Ebola-infected patient expressed mixed feelings today after arriving at the Port of Galveston in Texas.
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The Carnival Magic reached the port about 5 a.m. The health care worker and her travel partner were allowed to disembark with restrictions, according to the Galveston County Health Department.
The health care worker had been self-quarantined on the ship and hasn't shown signs of the virus for 19 days, officials said.
One passenger on the ship, Chris Perry, said the experience reminded him of the AIDS scare in the late 1980s, "Where people were just fearful of anybody around it."
"Outside of that, you know, once everybody kind of started understanding, it wasn't that big of a deal," Perry said.
Another passenger, John Cascio, said he was not too concerned.
"I really wasn't worried about it," Cascio said. "I knew they would take care of what's supposed to be taken care of."
But one passenger who chose to speak anonymously had some concerns.
"I was worried because if she did have Ebola, you'd be quarantined on the boat," the passenger said.
On Saturday, a Coast Guard helicopter met the ship to collect a blood sample from the unidentified health care worker.
She had departed from Galveston on Oct. 12 and was out of the country before being notified of active monitoring required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the State Department.
A spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines told ABC News the blood test came back negative. According to the CDC, a test is only positive after symptoms develop, usually fever. It may take up to three days after symptoms appear for the virus to reach detectable levels.
"Given that this person was at apparently no risk of having an Ebola infection, I find the whole episode baffling," ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said.
The worker did not have direct contact with patient Thomas Eric Duncan, but may have had contact with his clinical specimens, officials said. Duncan died Oct. 8 after becoming the first person on United States soil to be diagnosed with the virus.
The ship was refused clearance to dock in Cozumel, Mexico, on Friday. Belize also wouldn't allow the woman to leave the ship the day before.
All public areas ship will be sanitized before the ship departs again today, CDC officials said.
Since Duncan's diagnosis, two nurses involved in his treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, have tested positive for Ebola. Pham, 26, was flown to the National Institute of Health's Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and Vinson, 29, was taken to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Barclay Berdan, the CEO of Texas Health Resources, apologized to the Dallas community for the hospital's handling of Duncan in a letter that appeared in the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram today.
"I know that as an institution, we made mistakes in handling this very difficult challenge," he wrote. "When we initially treated Mr. Duncan, we examined him thoroughly and performed numerous tests, but the fact that Mr. Duncan had traveled to Africa was not communicated effectively among the care team, though it was in his medical chart. On that visit to the Emergency Department, we did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. For this, we are deeply sorry."
Duncan went to the emergency room on Sept. 26. He was initially sent home with antibiotics, but returned two days later in an ambulance when his symptoms worsened. The hospital then put him in isolation.
"Although we had begun our Ebola preparedness activities, our training and education programs had not been fully deployed before the virus struck," wrote Berdan. "In short, despite our best intentions and skilled medical teams, we did not live up to the high standards that are the heart of our hospital's history, mission and commitment."
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