Family members of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola, are now out of quarantine in Dallas. The news that the family is healthy came as a big relief to hundreds of Liberian-Americans in the Twin Cities who attended a prayer service Sunday night designed as a call to arms to fight the disease.
Duncan has become the worldwide face of an illness that has killed thousands of people in west Africa. Facing almost as much scrutiny is Louise Troh, Duncan's fiance, the woman he traveled to Dallas to visit.
With the 21-day virus incubation period over, Troh's appearance via Skype before a packed church was a triumphant moment for Pastor Harding Smith, who led last night's service in Brooklyn Center.
"I'm free. Ebola-free today," she said.
"Thank you, Jesus," Smith replied.
The service was part religious revival, with high-energy singing and dancing, and part public health symposium that included a state health department epidemiologist about Ebola warning signs.
The Twin Cities' Liberian-American population is among the largest in the U.S. And while community leaders here have been stridently admonishing their fellow immigrants not to travel, one group was there urging exactly the opposite.
Tarloh Quiwonkpa, a nurse with a group called the Liberian Diaspora Medical Boots on the Ground, sat at a table at the entrance trying to recruit doctors and nurses to go to west Africa to fight Ebola.
"The various NGOs are playing their part. But Liberians need to take the lead in terms of trying to help our own people," Quiwonkpa said. She hopes to sign up 200 medical personnel to travel. There's interest, but also concern about immigration problems.
"They would like to make sure that upon their departure for this deployment that coming back to the United States should not be an obstacle," Quiwonkpa said.
Liberian-Americans at the service last night were generally complimentary of U.S. government efforts to fight Ebola.
Decontee Kofa Sawyer, a Twin Cities woman whose Liberian husband died of Ebola after traveling to Nigeria, said she welcomes the deployment of American troops to build treatment centers and provide logistical support.
But Sawyer, like the others, said its up to Liberians in the United States to take charge of the effort.
"It's not enough to say 'President Obama, help Liberia, help West Africa.' What are we — Liberian Americans here — doing to help lead this fight?" Sawyer said.
Sawyer also said family members of Ebola victims — who have the added burden of grieving from thousands of miles away — should not be afraid to seek mental health counseling. Mental health treatment may not be the norm in the Liberian-American community, but Sawyer said these are not normal times