On Tuesday morning, around a dozen neighbors of Teresa Romero – the nursing assistant confirmed to have contracted Ebola in Spain – called the administrator of their apartment building in the southwest suburb of Alcorcón in a panic: “What should we do? No one is telling us anything! My children! I rode the elevator with her!” As the sense of alarm grew, Lola, an employee of the building’s administrator, called the council – no one picked up. Later, she phoned the National and municipal police, neither of whom would attend to her. Eventually she called the 112 emergency line, where a doctor from the SUMMA ambulance service explained the protocols that ought to be followed.
Lola asked for the access door to the block to be sealed so the disinfecting process could begin. The Health Ministry is planning on not just working inside the apartment – including on its pipes – but also cleaning the garage area where Romero and her husband, who is also under observation for possible infection, park their cars.
But for hours Lola’s requests came to nothing. The police – five National and municipal officers – didn’t turn up until 3pm, and while the regional health department announced in the afternoon that the block would be disinfected, work had yet to begin on Tuesday evening. The presence of media personnel in the entrance to the building could, according to municipal sources, have been the cause of the delay.
Until the police arrived at 3pm, only the building’s doorman was attempting to stop strangers from entering the block. EL PAÍS was able to reach the landing of the couple’s apartment, on the sixth floor, without any problems. The door to the flat had not been sealed off. Inside was the couple’s dog, which did not bark when the doorbell was rung, despite having been alone since Sunday.
“We had to take matters into our own hands because the phone in the office has not stopped ringing,” explained Lola on Tuesday. A spokesperson from Alcorcón council explained that they were unable to do anything given that they were in the hands of the Health Ministry. “We can’t send out a note to the neighbors or call them to a meeting,” the spokesperson said. “It’s a very delicate issue and needs to be dealt with by specialists, not by us.” EL PAÍS has been unable to get an explanation from the regional health department regarding the delay in supplying residents with information.
On Tuesday morning around 30 residents called the council helpline to find out what they should do. They were all told to visit the Health Ministry’s website, and read the information there about the Ebola virus. The mayor of Alcorcón, David Pérez, did not want to talk to the press and directed inquiries to the regional and national authorities.
Given the lack of information from the authorities, many residents found out about the Ebola case in their building through the media. One neighbor of the infected nursing assistant was terrified. “I don’t know what I can touch and what I can’t,” she said on Tuesday, visibly shaking as she opened her door with a cloth, so as not to come into contact with the handle.
Word spread quickly through Alcorcón, home to 170,000 people, partly thanks to the social networks. At around 1pm, the identities of the nursing assistant and her husband were made public. “I am very surprised and somewhat worried,” said neighbor Pilar Valencia, who has lived in the block for three years. “I just found out from a group I’m in on [cellphone instant messaging service] WhatsApp from a group of friends. I don’t want to panic but I’m particularly worried for my children.”