City Hall

In the Hours After Ebola Landed in Dallas, No One Knew Who Was In Charge

All of Vanity Fair reporter Bryan Burrough's portrait of Dallas in the hours, days and weeks after the arrival of Thomas Eric Duncan is worth reading, but we thought it'd be worthwhile to highlight some of the most interesting stuff in his piece for those who can't afford to read 9,000-plus words in the middle of the workday.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins' leadership role during the crisis was foisted upon him.

Late that afternoon Jenkins and the Texas health commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, repaired to a Presby conference room to teleconference with Tom Frieden and other C.D.C. officials. This was the meeting where Jenkins had assumed Frieden would take charge. Instead, Lakey urged they adopt an "incident command structure," or I.C.S., which would place a single local official at the helm of the entire crisis.

"Well, who's going to be in charge?" Jenkins asked.

"You would be in charge, Clay," Frieden said.

"Well, I'm not a doctor," Jenkins replied. "David, you should be in charge," he said to Lakey. Both of the doctors, however, insisted that Jenkins take charge.

Afterward, talking to Mayor Rawlings, Jenkins tried to explain how the I.C.S. would work. But Rawlings cut him off. "I don't give a fuck about that," he said. "Who's in charge?"

"Well, I am."

"Oh, good," Rawlings said, exhaling. "Good."

The bizarre search for Michael Lively Lively, who is homeless, was taken by Dallas Fire Rescue ambulance 37 immediately after the ambulance took Thomas Eric Duncan back to Texas Health Presbyterian. Twice, no one knew where he was.

By midmorning Wendy Chung's epidemiologists had scattered across the area looking for Lively or anyone who knew him. Around noon Emily Hall was driving north on Central Expressway with a C.D.C. specialist when she saw someone panhandling outside NorthPark mall.

"That's him!" she blurted. "That's Mr. Lively!"

Hall stopped the car and approached the man, who was in fact Lively, and gently explained his predicament. She guided him into a parking garage adjacent to a Whole Foods, took his temperature, and asked if he was experiencing any symptoms; to her relief, he seemed perfectly healthy. "He was a friendly guy," Hall recalls. "He kept saying, 'I'm glad you found me. I didn't know about any of this.' "

They took him to Presby, sat him on a bench out front, and gave him some food and a newspaper while he waited to be examined further. When Hall was called away, another epi volunteered to stay with him. Hours passed. Hall had almost forgotten the incident when, around five, the second epi called her. "She said, 'He's walking off,' " Hall recalls. "I'm like, 'What? You've got to stop him!' " Having waited all afternoon to see a doctor, Lively had lost patience. With no control order in place, they had no authority to stop him. Inexplicably, no one followed him. In minutes, Michael Lively had once again vanished into the streets of Dallas.

"What ensued," Hall says, "was a lot of madness."

Jenkins kept his sense of humor, even in the darkest moments. The judge recounted the moments just before he drove Duncan's family from their Vickery Meadow apartment to the Oak Cliff house at which they would spend the rest of their 21-day quarantine.

When the judge returned to the apartment door, one of the teenagers said he didn't want his face photographed. Jenkins offered a HAZMAT mask; they decided on a towel instead. Jenkins had told the boys they couldn't take their personal items, but he wryly pointed out that they would not be searched. "I'm telling you," Jenkins says with a grin, "those kids all had on cargo pants and they had, like, 30 pounds of stuff jammed in all their pockets."

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young