State officials cite strength of health system to contain Ebola
Two nurses being treated in a Dallas hospital after they were infected with the Ebola virus have been moved from a Dallas hospital to other facilities outside the state. One was transferred to a high-level containment facility for treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The other was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both nurses contracted the disease from an Ebola-infected patient hospitalized in Dallas last month who later died. The two nurses are said to be receiving experimental drugs to help improve their conditions.
Just Thursday evening, officials in Williamson County revealed that a Georgetown resident was on the same flight as one of the nurses who is now being treated in Maryland. Although not showing any Ebola symptoms, the resident has voluntarily quarantined himself. Three children of the man attend Georgetown public schools and will be kept at home, but GISD officials said they did not intend to close schools today, Friday.
However, three schools in Belton were closed in an abundance of caution when it was discovered that two of its students had also been on the same flight with the infected nurse. School officials ordered classrooms and school buses disinfected.
Also on the education front, The University of Texas System Board of Regents met Thursday night in a special called meeting, with one of the agenda items being to receive a time-sensitive update on infectious diseases, including the provision of specialized health care and the current state of preparedness across the UT System. The System includes nine academic institutions and six health institutions that educate more than 213,000 students.
In Dallas County, commissioners met Thursday with items on the agenda that, if approved, would have created a Declaration of Disaster and Declaration of Emergency in the county as a result of the Ebola events.
And, the state has asked The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to take a leadership role on several fronts to help combat Ebola. UTMB President Dr. David L. Callender said the medical branch is ready to provide clinical care for Ebola patients and to dispose of medical waste.
“UTMB is uniquely positioned to help Texas deal with the Ebola situation,” said Callender, noting that the medical branch has been conducting Biosafety Level 4 research for 10 years without infections among those who work in its labs, UTMB runs a Level 1 Trauma Center capable of dealing with most complex health emergencies and is experienced in safely destroying medical waste.
Government and health care officials are finding themselves not only having to deal with the medical and public health and safety sides of the Ebola issue, but also with the growing concern of the public.
Dallas County commissioners sent a message of confidence to the people in that region by declining to instate the disaster and emergency declarations. “We just don’t think we need it at this time,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, citing the ongoing relationship among the county, the city of Dallas and the state in dealing with the Ebola situation. “We need to save that tool in our tool box until we need it.”
Dr. Alex Eastman, Dallas Parkland Hospital’s Disaster Medical Director, urged “calm, rational thought” by local government officials.
“We can do this,” he said regarding managing the Ebola issues. “We have the right people to do it. We just need to make it happen.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings attended the commissioner’s court meeting Thursday to offer support from the city. Rawlings said what is of paramount importance is “the safety of our citizens.” He said the city agrees that officials should “do whatever is necessary to make sure our citizens are taken care of.” The mayor said that up to this point, efforts have been successful in dealing with those individuals who have come in contact with the patient who died. He said it is imperative that the hospital workers who provided his care and others who came in contact with him are safe. He said those who were in contact with the infected individuals should be asked to voluntarily restrict their travel, make sure they monitor themselves for symptoms of the disease and stay away from all public places.
Rawlings said a disaster declaration might not be the best way to ensure public safety. “If we dial this up to another level, we could have a lot of other people who suffer in the process.” The Dallas mayor expressed his concern for how a declaration might affect citizens who are in no way related to the issues as well as how it would affect business enterprise in the region. A major conference set next week in Fort Worth that is expected to draw more than 1,500 attendees has posted a notice on the conference Web page explaining, “The health department feels confident that people in our community are safe.” The notice also reminded that DFW Airport is not an entry point for direct travel from Africa and that Ebola is not airborne but transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids.”
Also, members of the National Football League New York Giants who are traveling to Dallas this weekend for a game against the Dallas Cowboys, have been briefed about the Ebola virus.
Jenkins indicated that he expects the state and federal governments to absorb most of the cost of current processes in dealing with the Ebola problem. “What the state has told me” he said, “is don’t let money stand in the way.” He also said the level of cooperation among local, state and federal government officials has been exceptional. When it comes to public health and public safety, “There are no politics,” said Jenkins.
In the meantime, state officials are making every effort to ensure that Texas residents have the information they need to ensure their safety as well as stop the spread of misinformation.
“We understand why people are concerned,” said Stephanie Goodman, spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, “but it’s important to remember that the risk of Ebola spreading in Texas is very low.” Goodman reminds that the disease is spread only through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids or exposure to contaminated objects, such as needles. “It cannot be spread simply by being near someone who is infected, and people only become contagious after they begin to have symptoms,” she said.
As Jenkins pointed out, the Ebola situation is not a Dallas County problem or a city of Dallas problem. “This is America’s Ebola outbreak,” he said, again citing the importance of ongoing cooperative efforts at all levels of government.
In Austin, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said at a press conference Thursday that there had been no cases of Ebola reported in the Austin community. Phil Huang, medical director for Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services, said the risk is “very low” for any Ebola outbreak to occur in the Capital City, but added, “We’re working to be prepared if it does.”
Huang said the keys to dealing with the situation are “detection, protection and response.”