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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Still On High Alert, State Is Monitoring Two People For Ebola

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Peter Hirschfeld
/
VPR
Director of Public Health Preparedness Chris Bell, left, Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan, center, and State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso brief lawmakers Thursday on Vermont's Ebola defense protocols.

There isn’t a single documented case of Ebola in the United States right now, let alone in Vermont. But health officials here remain on high alert nonetheless. And the state is now monitoring two people who returned earlier this month after traveling in West African countries where the disease is more widespread.

The individuals are checking their own temperature twice a day, then reporting results via phone during daily check-in with a public health nurse. They are not health care workers, according to officials, and their period of monitoring ends Friday.

Acting Commissioner of Health Tracy Dolan says it’s among the hundreds of protocols put in place since the state adopted an emergency preparedness response to the disease.

The state earlier this week released a Rutland man from a 21-day Ebola quarantine.

"It's not an emergency per se in Vermont, at all. I wouldn't even say it's an emergency in the United States. The real emergency is in West Africa." - Acting Commissioner of Health Tracy Dolan

“It’s not an emergency per se in Vermont, at all. I wouldn’t even say it’s an emergency in the United States. The real emergency is in West Africa. But we did choose to stand it up in Vermont, because the preparedness was complex. It was a new level of preparedness due to the nature of this particular infectious disease.”

Chris Bell is Vermont’s director of public health preparedness response. A month ago, Bell says he attended a meeting with hospital officials at which many expressed doubt over their ability to properly handle an Ebola case. During a legislative briefing Thursday, Bell told lawmakers that he had attended a meeting with those same officials earlier that morning, and that the confidence level is much higher.

“I left a room where the hospital emergency preparedness committee and the hospitals in Vermont feel as though they’re ready to handle a patient that walks in the front door, if they had to. We have a plan for what the next coming days would be if that occurred. And they feel comfortable with that.”

In the wake of revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the state has purchased $250,000 worth of new protective equipment designed to prevent frontline health workers from exposure to Ebola-infected patients.

In the wake of revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the state has purchased $250,000 worth of new protective equipment designed to prevent frontline health workers from exposure to Ebola-infected patients.

“They have single-piece full body Tyvek suits now that they use, along with N95 mask, a face shield and then a hood that goes over that, so there’s no exposed skin," Bell said.

Bell says that equipment has been delivered to emergency medical service centers and ambulance agencies around the state.

“Now’s the time to get ready, now’s the time to practice, now’s the time to use this new equipment to make sure you’re familiar with it. And it will make us better prepared not only for if we were to get a case of Ebola in the United States or Vermont, but whatever the next infectious disease is.”

When Rutland resident Peter Italia returned from a trip to West Africa last month, he was kept under police watch for 21 days while held in quarantine at a residence owned by the state.

But Dolan says similar precautions are not necessary for the two individuals being monitored now, and that officials determine appropriate measures on a “case-by-case basis.”

"Now's the time to use this new equipment to make sure you're familiar with it. And it will make us better prepared not only for if we were to get a case of Ebola [here], but whatever the next infectious disease is." - Director of Public Health Preparedness Chris Bell

Officials are also preparing to monitor Vermonters still traveling in West Africa, like the two doctors from the University of Vermont who left for Liberia earlier this month to help establish an Ebola treatment center there. Based on CDC guidelines, State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says those workers will be subject to more rigorous monitoring protocols.

“And not just relying on them to report symptoms in, but reaching out to them actively, and having eyes on them at least once a day to assess symptoms," Kelso says. "In addition that, we recommend that those folks do not provide direct patient care for 11 days after their last possible exposure.”

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