ST. PAUL, Minn. — The nation's anxiety about Ebola may have subsided since its early-fall peak, but Minnesota health officials told lawmakers Wednesday they're "not out of the woods yet" when it comes to tracking the possible spread of the deadly virus.
The state has cleared 216 travelers returning from the West African countries that have been most affected by the virus, and another 47 travelers were being watched for symptoms as of Sunday. That work will continue until the disease has been wiped out in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said. It could be another year or more.
Minnesota launched an aggressive response to curb the possible spread of the virus, due in part to the state's large Liberian population. The state has had up to 40 staff dedicated to Ebola response, including three employees whose sole job is to check in on recently returned travelers. Four Minnesota hospitals were also designated as treatment centers.
The Minnesota Department of Health estimates it will have racked up a nearly $900,000 bill for response costs by June of this year. And each hospital spent more than $1 million to ready their facilities for a possible Ebola-infected patient, Ehresmann said.
The department is asking state lawmakers to cover their Ebola-related costs. Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, urged health officials to ask the federal government to pitch in.
"They're going to need some federal money, because this really is a federal issue," she said.
Ebola has sickened an estimated 20,000 people and killed more than 8,000 in West Africa. No cases have been confirmed in Minnesota, but Ehresmann told lawmakers they had a scare around Thanksgiving.
A traveler who reported experiencing flu-like symptoms was transported to one of the state's designated hospitals in Fridley, Ehresmann said. Two tests eventually showed the patient did not have the virus.
With the Ebola-infected patient who died in Dallas on Oct. 8 still fresh on their minds, health workers were relieved, Ehresmann said.
"If you just think back to what happened in Dallas, that could have been Minnesota," she said.