Liberia’s Ebola Routine: Wear Your Temperature On Your Lapel
After 10 days in Liberia, NPR producer Nicole Beemsterboer has just landed in London. “You don’t realize how much has been hanging over your head until you’re out,” she says.
She’s talking about Ebola, the virus raging in Liberia as well as Sierra Leone and Guinea. “It was silent and invisible,” she says. “So you’re always on edge, always careful.”
How did you protect yourself?
I got used to not touching anyone, no handshakes. And there are buckets of chlorine solution everywhere — outside every office building, police station, government office, hotel, store. Everywhere. I washed my hands dozens of times a day, and was careful never to touch my face.
At government buildings, officials watch you wash your hands and then take your temperature with an ear-gun thermometer. They write your temperature on a piece of paper and actually staple it to your lapel so it’s visible to everyone inside. You can’t get in the building if you have a temperature, and it sends a message: We’re being vigilant; you need to be vigilant, too. Hold yourself and others accountable.
And you were careful right down to the soles of your boots?
We were concerned that if anything was contaminated, it was the bottom of our boots, so we were constantly rinsing them in the chlorine solution.
I don’t know that we started a trend, but on the last day we were there, our hotel added a shoe wash — a box with a big foam pad inside, soaked in chlorine so you didn’t have to soak your shoes but were getting enough chlorine on [the soles] to decontaminate them. We started seeing this more and more, at Redemption Hospital and other places around the city.
Does the chlorine cause any problems?
Only minor ones, and under the threat of Ebola, they didn’t bother me at all. All my clothes are spattered with bleach. I would dry my hands on my pants; my pants have bleach stains all over them. And it did smell like a pool everywhere you went.
Photo: Body collectors come to the home of four children in Monrovia who lost both parents to Ebola. (Tommy Trenchard for NPR)