Health care and public health organizations in Larimer County have been working closely together to be prepared in the event that Ebola infection is diagnosed locally.
The organizations are coordinating their activities and sharing preparedness plans through the Larimer County Emergency Health Care Coalition, a broad-based coalition that includes representatives from local hospitals, clinics, public health, emergency medical services and other health care-related agencies. The coalition formally organized about 15 months ago.
The risk of an ongoing outbreak in the U.S. remains very low as Ebola has not been found to spread through casual contact. The key to controlling Ebola’s spread lies in identifying and isolating all cases quickly, and then tracking all close contacts and monitoring them for 21 days to see if they develop symptoms.
“We are fortunate, in this country and in our county, to have the public health and health care infrastructure to respond effectively to an Ebola infection,” said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, Health Department director. “However, it is critical for the U.S. to join with other nations to help control the Ebola outbreak in affected countries of West Africa, as that is the only long-term protection for the U.S and the rest of the world.”
Coordinating the local planning efforts is the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, which serves as the coalition’s convener and helps ensure that all agencies have up-to-date information from state and federal sources. The department also has been gathering the lessons learned from the response of public health officials in Dallas, where the first cases of Ebola diagnosed and contracted in the U.S. have occurred.
The Health Department is preparing for different scenarios related to Ebola, including communicating with the public and keeping partners informed if a situation develops, setting up protocols for getting samples tested for Ebola, implementing isolation and quarantine measures and arranging for the cleanup and disposal of infectious wastes.
Hospitals in Larimer County are conducting readiness activities, which include practice exercises to provide extensive staff education on using personal protective equipment correctly and identifying potential weaknesses or gaps in their plans. Among the initiatives that some coalition member have implemented are an “Ebola toolkit” that provides comprehensive guidance for first responders, informational signage for ER staff and patients, and protocols for asking sympto¬matic patients about foreign travel to countries affected by the disease. Isolation carts also have been updated with appropriate protective equipment.
Emergency responders are preparing for the possibility of Ebola cases. Fire and emergency medical services are checking their PPE supplies, aligning their protocols with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, exploring procedures for decontamination of equipment and developing training exercises.
“Although we certainly hope we won’t ever have to deal with an Ebola case in our community, we know by working together we are better prepared and more likely to be able to quickly intervene successfully should it be necessary,” said LeBailly.
Local information on the Ebola virus is available on the Health Department website www.larimer.org/health/.