Greenwood County TB outbreak

Patient A: Neighbors describe Greenwood Co. man as quiet, nice

sfretwell@thestate.comJune 15, 2013 

— The man with the immaculate brick house and the expansive lawn liked nothing better than strolling the property on warm spring days or having family members over to visit his home on weekends.

He didn’t spend time with many of his neighbors, but he never seemed unfriendly either, often waving or talking across the fence surrounding his house in the city of Greenwood, neighbors said this week.

Now, the man’s neighbors are trying to make sense of an unfolding health drama that involves his potential role in spreading tuberculosis to nearly 100 school children, educators and others – an outbreak that is among the worst since 2003 in South Carolina.

A little more than a week ago, sheriff’s deputies whisked the man to Columbia and put him in a medical detention center for what could be months.

“This is a serious thing,” said Willie Price, who lives down the street from the man. “It’s just hard to believe.”

People across South Carolina also are wondering who this person is at the center of all the attention.

State health officials say the TB patient – whom they have declined to name for medical privacy reasons – forced them to take drastic measures because he would not cooperate and stay home while contagious. They say they are trying to get him well and halt the spread of TB. The State newspaper was able to determine the man’s identity but is not reporting it until learning more about “Patient A.”

Some neighbors questioned this week why it was necessary to detain the man. Others wondered if his reported tuberculosis could affect neighborhood children like it has in nearby Ninety Six, a small town where infected children are being treated to prevent tuberculosis.

“We need to be more educated because we’ve had contact with him,” said Blanca Alvarado, who lives with her husband and five children in a home near the TB patient. “Does it affect us? Do we need to do any testing?”

Alvarado, who moved to Greenwood from Columbia about two years ago, said her neighbor seemed healthy and vibrant when they’ve talked. She said she noticed no signs of a serious cough, which is indicative of tuberculosis. And while they weren’t close friends, he was pleasant when the two chatted in the yard.

The man would joke with the Alvarados that he was a better soccer player than their children, she said. Sometimes the Alvarado family’s dogs would slip through a hole in the fence and into his yard. He would unlock the gate and hand the dogs back to the family, she said.

“He was very nice,” she said.

The State could find no one this week to speak on the man’s behalf, so details about the long-time Greenwood resident are still sketchy. According to accounts from neighbors, he is perhaps 70 years old, about six feet tall and of average weight.

Reginald Robinson, a neighbor who lives close by, said he was told Monday that the TB patient lived near him – which came as a surprise. The man has been a gospel singer who attended church in the area, said Robinson and Ricky Parks, a father of some of the patient’s grandchildren.

The man has in recent years worked as a janitor at Ninety Six Primary School, where the tuberculosis germ has infected more than 50 children from kindergarten through second grade, records show.

Parents are upset with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control for not telling them sooner about the disease threat, but DHEC says it has done all it could since learning of the TB patient in early March. So far, the man and another Ninety Six Primary School worker are the only two people identified with a contagious form of the disease, which can cause people to cough up blood and experience chest pain – and, if untreated, can become fatal. The other worker is being confined at home.

While the TB patient was in medical custody in Columbia, several people were seen moving around this week on the property where he lives in Greenwood.

One of those who emerged from the house declined to answer questions when approached by The State newspaper, saying he could not talk about the issue. A woman who later went inside the house Tuesday told the newspaper the patient was “getting better” but declined to answer other questions.

Charlie Barrineau, Greenwood’s city manager, said a relative of the man who works for the city and lives on the property was put on temporary, paid leave this week while being checked for tuberculosis. Those tests later came back negative and the city employee is back at work, Barrineau said Thursday.

Mark Plowden, a spokesman for DHEC, said he did not know if the TB patient has a lawyer. DHEC’s order requiring the man to be confined in Columbia says he is entitled to a hearing challenging his forced detention at a medical facility on Farrow Road. Otherwise, he could remain there until his health improves, which could be months.

DHEC’s action to detain him was unprecedented in agency history.

A 2011 law gave DHEC the authority to involuntarily hold someone if that person presents a health threat to others. Courts have historically made those decisions, which are rare.

Some of the people who live near the TB patient said they didn’t know he had been detained by DHEC. That includes Ernest Morgan, who said he met the man not long after moving to the neighborhood a few years ago.

Soon after Morgan moved, the man came to his home seeking to buy a fountain Morgan had outside. Morgan said he sold him the fountain for his yard. After that, the two had little interaction other than casual nods, Morgan said.

The patient’s interest in a fountain for his yard fits with the character of his property. His 1½-story brick home sits on a wide lot filled with flowers and shrubs. The grass is neatly clipped. A child’s swing set also rests in the yard as it slopes downhill.

“He keeps that place up over there,” Morgan said. “He’s usually in the yard walking around, but the last couple of days, I ain’t been seeing him.”

Timeline

March 8

1

infectious school employee stops working


June 6

10 children

and 1 school employee have TB; 52 other people test positive for the germ, DHEC says


June 11

10 more people

test positive for the germ, DHEC says


June 12

25 cases

of positive tests among people not affiliated with the school

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service