NORWALK, Conn. – Representatives from Norwalk Hospital, the city Health Department, first responders and community groups gathered at Norwalk City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 22, for an information session on how the city is preparing a potential outbreak of Ebola.
Not too many people showed up for the information session, with fewer than a dozen in attendance. Dr. Paolo Pino, chief of infectious disease at Norwalk Hospital, discussed the symptoms of Ebola such as fever, headache, muscle pains, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. He said that the best way to protect one’s self if to use hand sanitizer and practice safe hygiene, avoid anyone who may be infected, and avoid travel to the West African countries where the outbreak is most rampant.
“We have daily Ebola updates, daily Ebola meetings to make sure we are up to date on the most recent information and to make sure our staff are ready to care for a patient if we receive one,” said Erin Fitzgerald, director of infection control at Norwalk Hospital. She said that the hospital has already run two Ebola drills and will be running another soon, and that training for staff has been ramped up to make sure everybody knows how to don and remove necessary protective equipment to prevent spreading infection.
Fitzgerald said that the hospital has also increased its screening processes, asking patients if they have traveled to West Africa or have a fever. She said that these screening questions are included even for people who come in for routine procedures.
Norwalk Public Health Director Tim Callahan discussed how people who travel from West Africa countries are being screened in airports, and their destinations are sent to the states where they are going. He said that the health department is in constant contact with the state to get the most recent information, and that if Ebola did break out in Norwalk it would be treated similar to an outbreak of tuberculosis, of which Norwalk has a couple cases each year.
Fire Chief Denis McCarthy discussed how all public safety departments are in constant communication. Firefighters act as pre-hospital care assisting EMTs, and if they were to encounter an infected person, they would work to limit exposure and everyone who came into contact with the suspected patient would be transported to the hospital for evaluation.
Deputy Police Chief David Wrinn discussed how patrol officers are receiving more training, and if necessary will have personal protection equipment in their cruises to deal with potential patients.
Emergency Management Director Michele DeLuca said the city wanted to make sure everybody had the correct information as a way of reducing panic and anxiety. She said people should go to the CDC website or the state’s new Ebola website to get the most recent information, and to limit their exposure to 24/7 news coverage of the disease.
McCarthy said that all agencies that would respond to an Ebola outbreak have worked together in the past and have been trained to coordinate their efforts quickly and effectively.
“I think that’s important to recognize, this is not something that’s sprung on an unsuspecting emergency response team, this is another in a series of events and challenges that we have developed the capacity to respond to,” he said. “I feel confident that, because of our careers and experience, that our department, along with the police, emergency management, the Health Department and the hospital, we’re very well prepared to address this.”
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