Preparing for Ebola: Tarrant officials get ready

Scott Nishimura

Public officials in Tarrant County have been working on ensuring the community is prepared for Ebola cases. “We’ve learned a lot” from the outbreak in Dallas, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said during a City Council meeting Oct. 21, “and I think our citizens can feel comfortable that we’re well-prepared to deal with this. And we’re getting there.” Tarrant County Public Health officials are working with local hospitals, first responders, charitable organizations, the mayor’s community advisers, schools and businesses, Vinny Taneja, the county’s new public health director, told City Council members Oct. 21.

The first of several dozen people who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan before and after he was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas are rolling off of an initial 21-day monitoring period. There have been no new diagnoses beyond two nurses who helped care for Duncan after he was diagnosed with Ebola. “It’s in a very limited setting in the U.S., it’s in the health care setting in the hospital,” Taneja told council members. “It’s not out in the community in a generalized setting. “If we do good contact monitoring, and make sure that if anybody turns symptomatic and we get them into a hospital and into isolation, we have a very good shot at getting to the disease right there,” Taneja said. • D-FW monitoring: After the initial 21 days of monitoring, the community goes into a lesser level of monitoring for the same period. Assuming no new diagnoses, “I would say, probably around Nov. 28, Nov. 29, the Dallas Metroplex area is outbreak-free,” Taneja said.

• Combatting misinformation and importance of public outreach: “It does spread through close contact with blood and infected body fluids,” Taneja reminded. “In the United States, it doesn’t spread through the air, it doesn’t spread through the water, and it does not spread through food.” In regards to some schools that shut down because a Dallas nurse with Ebola had flown before her diagnosis, Taneja said, “a contact of a contact is not a contact. Students who live with a contact who is asymptomatic pose no risk, and there is no need to close schools or cancel classes.” Fort Worth Councilman Danny Scarth: “We have mixed messages; we have an asymptomatic person get off a cruise ship, and they disinfect it.”

- FWBP Digital Partners -

• What Tarrant County is doing: Monitoring contacts; disseminating public health information, running Ebola hotline at 817-248-6299; reaching out to hospitals, first responders, charities, the mayor’s council and schools; holding regular meetings with the Centers for Disease Control and other authorities, Taneja said. The hotline has 10 people available to answer questions 8 a.m.-5 p.m. in English, Spanish, French and Vietnamese. Specialized questions are being passed to the county’s epidemiologists, Taneja said.

• Hospital, 911 call taker, and first-responder preparation: the CDC has tweaked screening questionnaires to focus on contact with bodily fluids, recent travel history outside the country and into areas where Ebola is prevalent, and direct contact with primates. “These are the questions hospitals are now asking,” Juan Ortiz, Fort Worth’s emergency management coordinator, told council members. The 911 call takers have been trained in the same screening, he said. And procedures are being worked over with emergency medical service providers, Ortiz said: “Can we practice scene safety? Can we isolate the patient in an appropriate manner? Can we minimize exposure to personnel? Can we avoid contact with body fluids? How do we assess the patient in an efficient, effective manner? And then how do we transport the patient to the hospital?” Local entities are ordering more personal protective equipment for fire, police and EMS units. “We have acquired an additional 3,000 units,” he said. Local authorities are also working with urgent care clinics to ensure “they have procedures in place,” Ortiz said. “We want to ensure they can quickly identify and isolate a patient suspect of having Ebola” and know how to clean up after transport.