Ebola nurse Amber Vinson said she received the federal government's permission to travel by plane after treating Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who died of Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas last month. Vinson, 29, spoke out for the first time about her decision to fly to Cleveland, Ohio, two days after Duncan's death during an interview Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show, saying that she did not disregard any warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I talked to my [intensive care unit] management team,” Vinson told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “I actually called in [that] Monday to verify that I was permitted to travel, and then again I was at work again on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I talked to management in person and they said the CDC said it was OK to go.”
Two days after Duncan’s death from Ebola, Vinson boarded a Frontier Airlines flight for Cleveland to visit family, a move that was quickly criticized by some as reckless. Although she was not symptomatic at the time she flew to Cleveland and subsequently returned to Dallas several days later, Vinson tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 14, one day after health officials confirmed that another Texas Presbyterian nurse, Nina Pham, had contracted the virus. Pham was among the health care workers who were in contact with Duncan during his time at the hospital. Both nurses have since been cured.
At the time of Duncan’s death, U.S. health officials were still unclear about how to handle Ebola patients. Duncan's case had hospitals nationwide scrambling to come up with consistent safety protocols for dealing with Ebola.
Vinson said health care workers at Texas Health Presbyterian had not received adequate training on how to put and take off protective equipment before Duncan arrived for treatment. “I'm an [intensive care unit] nurse; I embrace protocol and guidelines and structure, because in my day-to-day nursing, it is a matter of life and death, and I respect that fact,” she said. “I would never go outside of guidelines or boundaries or something directly from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] telling me I can't go [or] I can't fly. I wouldn't do it.”
The CDC later said it was a mistake to allow Vinson fly. The health agency sent out a request to all passengers on the same flight as Vinson to contact the CDC.