21 days later, Aspen man rejoins society
November 20, 2014
Frank Peters enjoyed coffee at Starbucks in Aspen on Sunday, and on Monday he took a spinning class at the Aspen Recreation Center. They were uneventful activities that might be better fitted for an innocuous Facebook status update, but in Peters' world, they marked his entrance back into society.
For 21 days, Peters did little mingling with the outside world and met just a couple of people in person. He once took a car ride with his wife to Costco in Gypsum, but he waited inside the parked vehicle while she shopped. A couple of friends stopped by his home to visit him but not because he invited them; they dropped in on their own volition. One of them was former Mayor Mick Ireland, who shook Peters' hand. Peters also hiked over Red Mountain to Lenado, where he picked up a car.
Aside from a few limited outings like those, Peters, 66, had been essentially holed up in Aspen ever since returning from Liberia on Oct. 29. Since Sept. 2, he had been working in Monrovia as a logistical leader for Doctors Without Borders, which has been stationed in West African countries to help curb the Ebola virus and treat people afflicted with it. His last day in Liberia was Oct. 25.
When he returned to Aspen, Peters wasn't under a mandated quarantine. But Pitkin County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which follows guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were aware that he was in Aspen.
“I had this feeling of running into someone on the street and they would flee in panic. That didn’t happen.”
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He took his temperature daily at 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon and regularly spoke with Dr. Kimberly Levin, the county's medical officer, about possible Ebola-like symptoms that he might have.
"When I was in Liberia, we were so busy with my work, my colleagues and I never thought about getting sick," Peters said Monday. "I got home, and there's nothing do, so there's very little to think about except Ebola. It's more worrisome here than it was there."
Peters said his worries were minimal, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered him at low risk for Ebola, and he'd done enough of his own research about the virus to understand the odds of him contracting it.
Even so, he played it safe, chiefly because if he had shown any Ebola symptoms — even if he didn't have the deadly disease — it would have prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin contact tracing. Contact tracing is done by finding every person who has been in contact with another person with Ebola symptoms. The person is then tracked and monitored for 21 days, the incubation period for Ebola.
Liz Stark, Pitkin County's public health director, said the county is unaware of any other people in the Aspen area who have returned from West Africa, where three countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — have accounted for 70 percent of Ebola cases since the outbreak in March.
"We have not been notified," she said. "There's still a possibility that someone could return. Most people would be returning asymptomatic and would need to receive daily monitoring."
Peters is well-known in Aspen, having sat on the Aspen City Council from 1989 to 1993; he also once co-owned the Hotel Lenado. He said that when he went out in public for the first time Sunday — his last conversation with a doctor was Saturday night — he felt a tad "gun shy."
"I had this feeling of running into someone on the street and they would flee in panic," he said. "That didn't happen."
He saw a couple of friends at Starbucks, and on Sunday, his spinning-class instructor gave him a big hug, he said.
"You'd be surprised how good that felt," he said.