NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City officials have stepped up safety measures, and training for city workers, in an effort to prevent an Ebola virus outbreak.
As CBS 2’s Diane Macedo reported, officials held a meeting Monday to prepare workers in the event that deadly virus were to emerge in New York.
“Whenever anything hits in New York, city workers are involved,” said Harry Nespoli, president of the Sanitation Workers Union.
With that in mind, the meeting addressed facts about the disease and measures in place to protect police officers, emergency personnel, teachers and other civil servants.
“A lot of this is about communication, a lot of this is about rapid response and a lot of it is about making sure people have the tools they need to manage the cases they may run into,” First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris told reporters, including 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa.
“We’re addressing it at all levels,” said Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito. “This meeting was for all city workers.”
Officials ran through a number of scenarios in which Ebola could conceivably be transmitted.
“There were questions about what do if a child’s at school and vomits, or you come across somebody on the street as a detective who’s been shot dead and has been lying there in a pool of blood,” said city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett.
The meeting also gave the Municipal Labor Committee, which encompasses unions representing more than 300,000 New York City employees, a chance to voice any questions or concerns for their members’ safety when it comes to Ebola.
“What happens if my members — the sanitation members — come in contact with a house that had a victim in there of the disease, and we picked up the garbage from the house?” Nespoli said. “Don’t you think our members should be tested?”
No matter what the question, the answer from city leaders seems to be the same: we’re prepared.
“FD has put out new procedures – they’re try to get the hazmats; the haz-techs to go out instead of the regular EMTs on certain cases,” Esposito said. “So we’re addressing it at all levels — not just the EMTs, but hospital workers. The general — this meeting was for all city workers.”
Leaders said the other big objective was to dispel any myths about Ebola in hopes union leaders would do the same among their membership and those members will then do the same in their communities, CBS 2’s Diane Macedo reported. They also stressed that this is all being done as a precaution; there are no cases of Ebola in the New York area and no reason to believe there will be anytime soon.
Shorris sought to assure city workers and the public that New York has been better prepared all along than a Dallas hospital linked to the first three U.S.-diagnosed cases of Ebola proved to be.
“What happened in Dallas was a tragedy and we have all learned enormously from it all across America, but New York was never in that same position,” Shorris said. “New York has always had some of the finest emergency response people, health care workers. Sadly, we’ve been tested, more than we would like, but we have already built some of the best response and communication protocols of any city in the country.”
City leaders promised to make this the first of many meetings aimed at opening up the lines of communication between the city’s leaders and its workers. They emphasized that the plans discussed at the meeting were all just precautionary; there have been no Ebola cases diagnosed in New York and there is no reason to believe there will be anyhtime soon.
Meanwhile in Westchester County, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) met Monday with medical staff at hospitals on issues of readiness and need.
“It is required to insure that every link in the chain, from the local hospitals, to the state, to the federal government, can bare the weight of the public health crisis,” Lowey told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane.
Westchester Medical Center’s Dr. Renee Garrick said the situation in Dallas pointed to the need for a regional approach.
“Because I think it would be very, very difficult for every hospital in this country to ever think of trying to prepare for the real care of a patient with Ebola.”
This all comes on the heels of yet another Ebola flight scare in Ohio, but also some reassuring news out of Dallas.
In Dallas, Louise Troh and several friends and family members will finally be free Monday to leave a stranger’s home where they have been confined under armed guard for 21 days — the maximum incubation period for Ebola.
They had close contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who died of the disease at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Oct. 8.
“Not only have they been isolated from the wider public and their own families, they’ve been isolated from each other even in the house because they have not been able to touch each other,” said family friend Pastorgeorge Mason.
The incubation period also has passed for about a dozen health workers who encountered Duncan when he went to the Dallas hospital for the first time, on Sept. 25.
Duncan was sent home but returned by ambulance on Sept. 28 and was admitted. Two nurses who treated him during that second visit, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, are now hospitalized with Ebola.
Vinson’s family issued a statement Sunday saying they have hired a lawyer and are troubled by comments and media coverage that “mischaracterize” Vinson, who is being treated at Emory University in Atlanta. Vinson “has not and would not knowingly expose herself or anyone else,” the statement says.
Dallas County and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials cleared her to fly last week to Dallas from Ohio, and “suggestions that she ignored any of the physician and government-provided protocols recommended to her are patently untrue and hurtful,” the family says.
On Sunday, a Carnival Cruise Lines ship returned to Galveston, Texas, from a seven-day trip marred by worries over a health worker on board who was being monitored for Ebola. The lab supervisor had handled a specimen from Duncan and isolated herself on the ship as a precaution.
Carnival said it was informed by U.S. health authorities Sunday morning that the worker tested negative for Ebola.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said those caring for Duncan were vulnerable because some of their skin was exposed.
“The guidelines did have some exposure of skin in the sense you had a mask, but there was some skin that was exposed and some hair that was exposed,” said Fauci. “We want to make sure that that’s no longer the case.”
The CDC is working on revisions to safety protocols. Earlier ones, Fauci said, were based on a World Health Organization model for care in remote places, often outdoors, and without intensive training for health workers.
Health officials had previously allowed hospitals some flexibility to use available covering when dealing with suspected Ebola patients. The new guidelines are expected to set firmer standards: calling for full-body suits and hoods that protect worker’s necks; setting rigorous rules for removal of equipment and disinfection of hands; and requiring a “site manager” to supervise the putting on and taking off of equipment.
The guidelines also are expected to require a “buddy system” in which workers check each other as they come in and go out, according to an official who was familiar with the guidelines but not authorized to discuss them before their release.
On Sunday the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had ordered the formation of a 30-person military support team to assist civilian medical professionals in the U.S. to treat Ebola.
Meanwhile, Ohio’s Youngstown-Warren Airport had its own protocols tested Sunday night after a passenger on a flight from Florida showed Ebola symptoms.
“His eyes would roll back in his head when he was having convulsions,” said Jeff Gambino, whose wife and son were sitting right next to sick passenger. “His head would go back and forth. They were trying to restrain him and he threw up a couple, three, four times.”
The passenger was stabilized and taken to a local hospital but the airport director says inspectors found no sign of Ebola.
“They called the hazmat team, both EMS responded,” said airport director Dan Dickten. “I think it was a good response and now everything’s cleared and no eminent danger of any kind.”
And while some passengers complained of not being given enough information, the airport said it followed protocol, something New York officials also hope to be able to say should we get a case of our own in the city.
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