Friends of the second U.S. nurse diagnosed with Ebola described her as a "hero" on the front lines of the war against the virus who is being scapegoated for flying from Texas to Ohio after she helped care for a patient with the disease.
Amber Vinson, 29, came under public fire this week when the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared she should never have been on a commercial flight — hours before it was revealed the agency green-lighted her to fly with a mild temperature.
News of Vinson's weekend trip to plan her wedding has sowed panic in northeastern Ohio, where nurses who were on one of her flights were put on paid leave from work, two schools were closed for cleaning because a parent had contact with her, and a bridal shop she visited was shuttered.
Vinson's family has declined to comment, but friends from nursing school at Kent State University rallied to her defense.
"In my eyes she is a Hero!" friend Falisha Lee said in a statement to NBC News. "As a fellow nurse, I will say that I believe that she followed the precautionary processes known to her as any prudent nurse would have done.
"Nurses are the ones at the bedside, sacrificing their own lives to care for the ill, so that their loved ones can continue to live their day to day lives. The world needs to take a step back and for a second try to understand the care that nurses provide day in and day out."
Isharon Reynolds, another Kent State nursing grad, said Vinson is a "trailblazer" in a situation where policies and protocols are rapidly changing.
"I just want people to know Amber is someone's daughter, someone's fianceé, someone's cousin and someone's friend. She is a loving, caring and nicest person you will ever met," she said. "I admire her courage and strength to take care of the unknown. I admire her ability to uphold the responsibilities and role of a nurse.
"I am in consistent prayer for my friend, fellow nurse and KSU nursing graduate. We love you and we support you."
Health officials in Summit County, Ohio, who have been tracing Vinson's movements in the state, called her "conscientious" — noting that she stayed close to her family's home and kept her distance from relatives even though she did not have any symptoms that would suggest she was contagious.
Before the trip, the young woman had extensive contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola at Texas Health Prebysterian hospital in Dallas on Oct. 8.
She flew to Cleveland on Oct. 10 and avoided public places because of her exposure to Duncan, said Summit County Health Commissioner Gene Nixon.
"She was not at football games," he said. "She was not at pizza parlors."
"She was being very careful," he added. "Her family confirms she was very distant. She wasn't hugging. She wasn't kissing."
But on Saturday afternoon, she did visit the Coming Attractions bridal shop in Akron with five friends. Health sleuths have tracked down those five, and they have agreed to voluntary quarantine. The store was voluntarily closed on Thursday.
Two of Vinson's family members in Ohio are self-monitoring at home, and Vinson's mother is under supervision in Dallas, where she flew to be with her daughter.
Those infected with Ebola are contagious only when they have symptoms. Vinson was not sick when she flew to Ohio but she had a low-grade fever when she boarded a flight back to Dallas on Oct. 10 with permission from the CDC.
"She was a very conscientious person. She did not take undue risks," said Margo Erme, the Summit County Public Health medical director. "She seemed to limit her activity here, which I am very grateful for."
Vinson spiked a fever when she arrived back in Dallas on Oct. 14 and she was placed into isolation and then diagnosed with the virus, officials said.
Vinson has been flown to Emory University in Atlanta for treatment in a special isolation unit. The first nurse from Texas Health who was diagnosed with Ebola, Nina Pham, is being taken to a National Institutes of Health facility in Maryland.
Vinson grew up in the Akron area, earned two degrees from Kent State and worked for several years at Summa Akron City Hospital before moving to Texas.
"Amber is a kind, caring, intelligent, beautiful soul who comes from a beautiful loving family," Lee said.