Texas Ebola Fears Lead To Struggles & Reports Of Discrimination

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDW.COM) – We have yet to see the lasting effects of the Ebola virus in North Texas, but the reality is for some just hearing the word ignites fear. Two North Texans have survived the virus and dozens of others are now out of isolation. But they all could still face discrimination, because of the stigma surrounding Ebola.

On Wednesday community leaders in Dallas gathered to talk about the local response. The meeting brought a lot of information to light and some of what they said came as a surprise.

North Texas had been through a crash course on Ebola since U.S. index-patient Thomas Eric Duncan showed up at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas last month. Wednesday we heard just how cruel that learning curve has been.

During a briefing at Park Cities Baptist Church, it was learned that people of African descent, not from Liberia but anywhere on the continent, are now facing discrimination in North Texas.

Even Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who has taken a personal role in supporting Duncan’s family, was broadsided by ignorance.

“I got a call from my wife who was in tears, because she had been told that she can’t work in the cafeteria by some other moms because she might have Ebola, because I might have Ebola, therefore my child might have Ebola, [and] maybe they all need to leave school,” he said frustrated. “[It] was just a few moms. So, that was a tough thing.”

Wednesday, CBS 11 News also learned that Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, is having a tough time finding a place to live.

Troh lost the man she was supposed to marry to the deadly virus and now it seems she’s lost the right to live a normal life. Though Troh was never ill with Ebola, landlords are refusing to rent to her.

The 54-year-old had been staying in a borrowed home since being whisked away from The Ivy Apartment complex in Vickery Meadow. She was in the apartment with Duncan after he became ill with the virus.

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Since being released from a 21-day quarantine last week, Troh has been having a tough time finding a place to live.

Judge Jenkins said people have even tried to justify their prejudice. “The theory is maybe an African, [or] a West African, who has Ebola will come visit her. So, there’s a lot of fear still out there in our community.”

Doctor George Mason is Troh’s pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church. “I think we are generally a smart community, but we still have lingering effects of people who are selectively saying ‘I’d just really rather not.’ Even though there’s absolutely no difference between them or any of the rest of us in terms of their having Ebola or even having the potential to have Ebola.”

The rejection sounds illegal, but is it? Appellate lawyer Chad Ruback explained that the actions might not be illegal, since Troh never had Ebola and therefore does not have a disability. “If even she herself had Ebola, federal law might protect her. But, in this case, we just have a perception that she’s been associated with people who have … and I don’t know that the law will protect her in this case. That being said, what these folks are doing is absolutely wrong.”

After learning of the issues Troh and other African immigrants have been facing, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings sent them a message. “I’d love those women to call my office. This is illegal to do. When businesses start to realize that the Mayor and the Judge are getting personally involved in these things, that’s what starts to change the tide.

Pastor Mason and the congregation at Wilshire Baptist aren’t waiting for businesspeople to do the right thing. The church family is working to purchase a condominium for Troh – one that she can rent without interference.

“We can’t change the past, but we can at least give her a soft landing so she can have a running start on a future,” Pastor Mason said confidently.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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