Owner of Bridal Shop Visited by Ebola Nurse Puts Herself into Quarantine
Fall is usually a busy season for Anna Younker, owner of Coming Attractions Bridal & Formal in Akron, Ohio.
But shortly after Amber Vinson, 29, one of two Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurses to be infected with the Ebola virus, visited Younker’s shop on Oct. 11, Younker put herself into quarantine and temporarily shuttered her shop.
Younker remembers Vinson – whose family says she first checked with the CDC before she flew to Ohio for a weekend of wedding planning with her mom – when she walked into the shop Oct. 11 to show off her wedding gown to her bridesmaids.
“She was so pleasant to work with,” says Younker, 47. “Nothing unusual about her at all.”
But just four days later, after the Dallas nurse, along with colleague Nina Pham, 26, was diagnosed with the deadly disease, Younker’s life was thrown into turmoil.
Both nurses are believed to have contracted the disease from Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who unwittingly brought the virus to Dallas when he flew in to see family. Duncan, 42, died Oct. 8.
As health officials raced to track down people with whom Vinson had contact during that weekend in her hometown, it immediately became apparent that she’d visited just one place outside her family’s home: Younker’s store.
“They released her name that Wednesday at 4 p.m.,” Younker says. “My staffers came running over to tell me. I actually didn’t remember who she was at first. ”
Then, as Younker looked at a receipt with Vinson’s name on it from that Saturday, the reality sank in: She had been exposed to someone with Ebola and so had her store.
She shut Coming Attraction’s doors that night, and the shop has remained closed ever since.
For her part, Younker, who self-quarantined after hearing the news, says she’s not scared that she has the disease.
“If I’d seen Amber looking sickly, I would have been more concerned,” she says. “But she gave no signs of not feeling well. That’s why when I found out, I was so surprised.”
The deadly virus, which is currently ravaging West Africa, spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids and can only be transmitted to another person when the afflicted is showing symptoms of the illness, experts say.
Vinson, who is being treated at Emory University Medical Center, has been declared free of the virus and moved out of isolation. Pham, who is being treated at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, has been upgraded to good condition.
Though it seems unlikely that Younker contracted the disease from Vinson, she remains housebound, checking her temperature twice a day for the duration of the virus’s 21-day incubation period.
Still, it’s the stigma of the disease, not Ebola itself, that worries her.
“I had a customer ask me yesterday, ‘Is my dress covered in Ebola?’ ” Younker says. “Someone told me that I should take all the dresses and burn them. Isn’t that crazy?”
Even Younker’s 10-year-old son, who had no contact with Vinson at all, can’t escape the terrible stigma.
“There are parents calling my son’s school saying they don’t want him there,” she says. “It’s tough.”
For now, Younker is keeping him home to ease fellow parents’ minds. As for her store, it’s received a thorough cleaning, but it will remain shuttered for the 21-day period.
Younker hopes that will be enough to give the public peace of mind. “I feel like if I don’t let that pass,” she says, “customers won’t trust us.”
And though Vinson no longer has Ebola, Younker also plans to stay quarantined.
“I am so happy for her and her family,” Younker says of hearing that the nurse is now Ebola-free. “I hope this will ease the minds of all those people who were in contact with Amber, as well as not in direct contact with her.”
Even so, she says, “I am staying home as I have been advised to do until Nov. 1, which is the 21st day. But if my son is welcomed back to school sooner than that, then I know the public is comfortable with us once again.”
For more on the Ebola crisis, pick up a copy of this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday