Erie County could handle Ebola, say medical leaders

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) –  Erie County health care leaders say procedures and safeguards are in place to handle Ebola patients. No cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in Western New York.

“We are prepared in case we do get a case,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who was surrounded by area hospital officials and his health commissioner.  He said he is concerned that “people are afraid and are going so far as to change their daily routines as to prevent getting exposed.”

Poloncarz pointed out that Erie County has a 97 percent rating by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which measures a region’s ability to respond to a health emergency.  Three years ago he said it was 65 percent.

WATCH | Watch the press conference about Ebola preparedness

Hospitals in Erie county say they are staying current on new federal standards for handling Ebola patients.

“The lower levels of protection that we were initially told was adequate to care for patients, is not actually adequate,” said Dr. John Sellick, Jr., an infectious disease specialist. “So we began ramping this up.”

Now there’s a question whether the county needs to purchase upgraded equipment to meet the new standards issued Monday.
“We are fully stocked as we speak,” said Dan Neaverth, Jr., Erie County’s Emergency Services Commissioner. “But (we) are adjusting based on what the guidance happens to be.”

On the question of preparedness, ECMC says during a drill more than a week ago, it had isolated a mock Ebola patient two minutes after he walked through the door.  The medical center has designated special isolation rooms.

Dr. Brian Murray, ECMC’s Chief Medical Officer, said “patients can be isolated, assessed, and initially stabilized medically while we determine if they indeed do have the condition.”

If it is determined that patients have the Ebola virus they would be transferred to Rochester, the nearest Ebola center in the region.

“Preparedness is absolutely a team effort,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner.

She says her experts who detect local disease patterns have been looking for Ebola red flags since August. “(The) epidemiology team has been conducting aggressive surveillance for Ebola virus disease in our community,” she said.

Western New Yorkers are being urged to get flu shots. Some of the early flu symptoms are the same as Ebola.

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