Mayor Mitch Landrieu, joined by senior aides from his administration as well as first responders and officials from various state and local agencies, convened an emergency preparedness meeting Monday to walk through the city’s response plan should the Ebola virus be reported locally.
The meeting came as a hospital in Dallas is treating a man infected with the virus. Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed in the United States with Ebola, is in critical condition. Duncan traveled last month from Liberia, the epicenter of the outbreak, to Dallas.
The current Ebola epidemic, affecting multiple countries in West Africa, is the largest in history. About half the people who have contracted Ebola in the current outbreak have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No cases have been reported in Louisiana, but Landrieu said the roundtable meeting was called in the “unlikely event” that changes.
“I thought that it was really important that we got all of the interested parties together to make sure that we have clear command and control, and clear coordination and clear communication on the federal, state and local levels,” Landrieu said at a news conference after the meeting.
The meeting, held at City Hall, lasted about 90 minutes and included representatives from the city’s Health Department, local hospitals, more than two dozen city and state offices, law enforcement and first response teams, as well as the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louis Armstrong International Airport, the Port of New Orleans and the Coast Guard.
“We went around the room and made sure that all of the different entities ... have begun to understand and adopt the protocols that would allow us to respond in a very clear and thoughtful way in the event that we had any (case) of Ebola in the city of New Orleans,” Landrieu said.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has been criticized for sending Duncan home when he initially sought care there Sept. 26. Duncan wasn’t tested for Ebola at that time even though he told medical personnel at the hospital that he had recently been in West Africa. Duncan was taken back to the hospital by ambulance two days later and admitted.
The family Duncan was staying with in Dallas, as well as the paramedics and medical personnel who treated him, all may have been exposed to the virus and are now being monitored for symptoms of the disease.
The virus is spread through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids, such as saliva, vomit, sweat, urine and semen.
“You cannot get Ebola unless you have spent a decent amount of time in close physical contact — as in touching, caring for and doing a lot more than being in the same room — with somebody who is obviously ill with Ebola,” Dr. Susan McLellan, a professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said Monday.
McLellan recently returned from a trip to West Africa, where she treated victims of the current outbreak. “It does not transmit easily by contact with a wall or a chair or walking by somebody,” she said.
Although the virus has made its way to Texas, Louisiana health officials have urged residents not to panic, especially as cold and flu season approaches.
Ebola symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and unexplained bleeding or bruising, according to the CDC.
City Health Department Director Charlotte Parent said the city is visiting urgent care facilities, dialysis centers and other clinics to make sure that medical personnel in those places, like their counterparts in hospitals, know how to spot and respond to people who might be infected with Ebola.
“We can control this. We can isolate this. We can keep you from getting exposed. But we also have to keep people from panicking,” State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said.
Still, officials acknowledged a breakdown in communications last month when a crew member of the Liberian-flagged ship Marine Phoenix tested positive for malaria when the ship reached New Orleans.
Landrieu said it was not quickly communicated to health officials at hospitals around the area that the sailor was sick with something other than Ebola.
The situation “laid bare what I call down-the-line logistics not being exactly lined up the way that we were supposed (to be),” Landrieu said. Protocols have been amended since that incident, he said.
“In the event that there is any suspicion that there would be an individual coming into this general area that might present in a way that might cause us concern ... the protocols are now tight and they are in place about who is supposed to do what, when and where and how,” the mayor said.