Reiterating assurances he gave earlier in the week about concerns faculty or students might have come into contact with the deadly Ebola virus during their summer travels, Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss said Friday no one reporting to class when school opens Monday is carrying such an infectious disease.
At least, not to his knowledge.
Moss called a news conference Friday to "address concerns and media reports regarding employees who allegedly traveled to the continent of Africa."
"Do I understand parents' concern to want to ensure the safety of their children? The answer to that is yes," Moss said. "But I'm not going to speak to any particular situation or circumstance."
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Moss outlined procedures that would address anyone who might have come in contact with an infectious disease -- though he would not say if the district currently is exercising those processes.
"The process we have in place, I would hope would add some assurance to parents," he added. Students will return to school Monday to begin the 2014-15 school year.
District officials have been in contact with Dr. Linda Bell, a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control epidemiologist, who "concurred" with district protocol to provide a safe environment for students and staff, Moss said.
If the district suspects a staff member or student has been exposed to an infectious disease, it has the "right and authority to request" a doctor's statement declaring them to be free of the disease and of no danger to anyone entering district buildings, Moss said.
District spokesman Jim Foster added that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with airports to screen people leaving affected countries for symptoms of Ebola -- fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or unexplained bleeding -- as well as when they arrive in the United States.
"If you see individuals in our building, it is because we believe them to be clear of any infectious disease that would harm our public," Moss said. "Now, obviously that is based on what we know."
Earlier in the week, school board Chairman Bill Evans told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette that two or three teachers had recently returned from West Africa, where the biggest Ebola outbreak in history continues its spread.
Evans said that information was brought to the board by the district during a recent school board workshop. After that meeting adjourned Saturday, Moss told some board members it was unclear if district policy allowed him to ask a teacher returning from West Africa to get tested for the virus.
During the press conference, Moss said that -- to his knowledge -- the district did not have anyone travel anywhere close to where Ebola has been identified. By "anywhere close," Moss said that meant hundreds of miles.
A reporter then showed Moss a screenshot of a Facebook page, in which several people identifying themselves as district employees discussed recent travels to Nigeria for mission work.
Moss said he "would not talk about Facebook."
The page indicated the group visited a hospital in Egbe, Nigeria. Based on CDC and World Health Organization reports, it does not appear there have been any confirmed Ebola cases in Egbe. The city of more than 15,000 people -- according to the most recent data -- is about 225 miles from Lagos, the known location of Ebola cases in Nigeria.
Nigeria, a country of roughly 169 million people, is currently listed by the CDC as a level-two country, meaning people should use enhanced precautions there. As of Friday afternoon, there have been 12 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola in the country with four deaths, according to the CDC.
In other West African countries -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- the toll is much higher. Across all four affected nations, the number of suspected and confirmed cases has grown to 2,127, with 1,145 deaths, according to the CDC.
While Nigeria is not under the highest level of warning -- level three, to avoid nonessential travel -- board member JoAnn Orischak said she thinks it is important to take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all students and staff, including the teachers who traveled there.
Moss said he is confident that students and staff are safe to come to school Monday.
"I would think that what parents would want to know is that anyone in our building has been cleared to be in our building," he said, "for whatever reason, for whatever disease."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- District officials to parents: Don't be concerned about Ebola exposure, August 14, 2014
- Teachers' return from West Africa raises Ebola concerns, August 13, 2014