CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Three missionaries who worked with patients infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia are back in the United States and feeling upbeat after their trans-Atlantic charter flight, the head of the North Carolina-based mission hosting them said Monday.
"They were amazingly vibrant this morning when I was with them," SIM USA President Bruce Johnson said at a news conference. "So we're really grateful for their health, their spirit, their attitudes."
Although the three were examined upon their arrival in Charlotte and determined to be healthy, they are being held in quarantine at least three weeks dating from the time the missionaries were last exposed to people infected with the virus. That means they won't all be released at once.
For now, their quarters will be five motor homes anchored in the mission's RV park on its wooded 90-acre campus not far from the South Carolina line. Eight others, including six children, are also living on the property voluntarily until they are cleared. The eight are not under quarantine.
"So, they've got great space to walk around, along with our six children that are here who came in earlier, and the other two adults," Johnson said, adding that he hoped to spend part of the afternoon riding his mountain bike with some of the kids, mindful that he has to keep a 3-foot buffer between himself and the people in quarantine as a precaution.
Johnson said there was a short list of people who have access to the area where the missionaries are staying.
"It provides the public the knowledge (that) it is a secure place for their privacy, but it's also a secure place so the public can be reassured of how we're handling this," he said.
The people in quarantine are having meals prepared on the SIM campus brought to them. They can sit at tables, but there is separation between them, another precautionary measure. There will be movies and games as well.
"What they can't do is hug," Johnson said.
Among the missionaries who returned is David Writebol, whose wife, Nancy, remains in isolation in an Atlanta hospital after she was returned to the United States for treatment last week. He said Writebol looked to be in good shape.
"There was good color in his face," Johnson said. "He looked great, interacting. He wasn't emotional. There was a sense of relief that was on his face."
The Writebols had been in Liberia since last August, sent there by SIM USA and sponsored by their home congregation at Calvary Church in Charlotte. At the clinic, Nancy Writebol's duties included disinfecting staff entering or leaving the Ebola treatment area.
Dr. Megan Davies, the state epidemiologist with the North Carolina Division of Public Health, said the missionaries will check in twice a day, updating health officials with such information as their temperature, or if they have headaches or abdominal pains.
Such quarantines are not unusual, Davies said.
The virus is spread by direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from a sick person. Ebola can't be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing the same air as someone who is infected.