Nearly 200 officials from Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties gathered Friday morning to have a conversation about proper protocols and procedures to initiate when dealing with someone who has contracted the Ebola virus.
The main purpose of the tabletop discussion, hosted by the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Department on the campus of Gwinnett Technical College, was to field questions and concerns from the local agencies in the district with promises to answer them at a later date after deliberating with state officials.
A few the concerns centered on what to do with children of an adult who contracted the virus, what message should be sent to the public about the Ebola virus and how to handle an Ebola victim in the hospital while alive and after death.
“I think that’s what my biggest concern is in my county; the elected official response quickly to what comes out the media, and what I foresee happening in my county, because we don’t have a public information officer for our county commission, that the local newspaper will flash something (like there’s an Ebola victim in the county) on social media or on their website and then the politicians will (have to) respond,” Newton County Commissioner Nancy Shulz said.
Another concern that came up was how to treat the quarantined family of an Ebola patient and what to do if someone suspected of having Ebola won't assist with their own quarantine process.
Each agency may have their own procedures in place when dealing with an infectious disease such as Ebola but the discussion Friday was try to get all agencies in the district on the same page and develop a basic understanding among them.
"We all have protocols individually based on our organization's mission and purpose," said GNR County Health Departments Public Information Officer Jessica Anderson. "This (discussion) here will refine this. This is so we work together, and that we're informed on how all the agencies participating in the response will function."
It also gave the GNR County Health Departments an opportunity to debunk some myths surrounding the Ebola incidents.
Alana Sulka, head of epidemiology and communicable diseases for GNR County Health Departments, enlightened the crowd by telling them who should be considered a high risk for Ebola and who shouldn't.
There are only three countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — in Africa dealing with an Ebola crisis, said Sulka. Just because someone travels to and departs from one of those countries or a country in West Africa doesn't make them a high risk target for Ebola, she said.
That person had to have contact with a suspected Ebola patient or worked in a health care facility treating Ebola patients in order to be a high risk target, she added.
"Just an individual coming from one of those three countries in West Africa does not signify a risk for Ebola transmission," Sulka told the crowd. "There has to be some additional risk exposure that takes place."
Rockdale County Public Schools spokesperson Cindy Ball said the school system registrars have put in place a protocol for screening any students who are registering who have traveled to or from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
"We're not the health experts. We're following what the experts are telling us to do," Ball said. "In those guidelines, we have to assess the risk. We will collaborate with those health experts to assess the risk and have the collaborative decision as to whether they should wait for a period of time or whether they're fine to come in."
Shulz added that Newton County officials have experience with emergency situations, if another such as ebola were to arise.
“I think that one of the success stories that I've seen in our county is when we responded to the (Snow-mageddon),” Shulz said. “We had a very nice response and it’s important for us to make sure that we have that same type of response and be prepared so that (we) can somewhat control the response of the elected officials whose main job is to respond the people. We don’t want to escalate fear unwarranted. So my question would be how do we make sure we have some type of coordination between our local newspaper, and I know we have public information officers here but not everyone has a public information officer and that helps to control the message, but in our case the message would have a life of its own?
For more information and the PowerPoint slide at Thursday's tabletop, visit Rockdale Medical Center's Ebola Toolbox at rockdalemedicalcenter.org/health_information/ebola_toolbox.aspx