The Ocean County Health Department is taking a number of steps to prepare for a potential Ebola case within the county, including conducting weekly meetings with an infectious disease physician, forming two task forces to study isolation and quarantines and preparing a bid solicitation for a biological cleanup service to be retained should a county residence need to be decontaminated.
There have been no cases of Ebola in Ocean County – or New Jersey – but concerns are heightened after a second nurse in Texas who treated an Ebola patient contracted the disease and had flown on a commercial airline flight to Cleveland last week.
“We have received phone calls from physicians, clinicians, and hospitals over the past few weeks saying, ‘we want to run this past you,'” said County Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye.
In some of the cases where the county has received calls, the concern was raised because a patient had recently been in Africa, where the virus has claimed thousands of lives and is actively spreading.
Regenye said the county has formed two task forces – one dedicated to the legal and technical issues surrounfing administrative preparedness and quarantines, and another dedicated to the medical aspects of planning what the county health agency would do the stop the spread of Ebola.
The county has reached out to the law enforcement community, health providers, EMS services and schools.
“There are a lot of unknowns with this,” said Regenye. “There are a lot of questions that we still need answers to. Everything we’re doing is based on what we know at this point.”
If an Ebola case were to be identified in Ocean County, the situation would be immediately investigated by the Berkeley Township hazmat team, which has the proper equipment to go into a disease hot zone.
“They have staff that are trained, equipped, and have all of the PPE (personal protective equipment) so they could come in to a scene in the proper protective equipment and provide some eyes and ears into what is going on,” Regenye said.
Logistically, the county’s Board of Health will soon be going out to bid on decontamination services if a residence within the county’s borders needs to be cleaned following an Ebola case.
“In one apartment in Dallas, there was a report that it cost $130,000 just to sanitize the inside and outside,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little. “Well, we don’t have a contract in place for someone to do that, so we will be getting that together at our next meeting.”
The cost of a response to an Ebola case or outbreak in Ocean County would fall to the county’s health department – not the federal or state government, Little said.
Regenye said protocols for the quarantine and isolation of those who had contact with the disease or who are actively infected by it are key to stopping its spread. To that end, the county has some experience, such as a patient with tuberculosis who was isolated two years ago. In addition, residents should always practice normal good hygiene, including washing hands, getting information from reputable organizations, and getting a flu shot so authorities can better determine whether someone has a simple flu or the more deadly virus.
While the county is preparing, a wide-scale effort to stop a virus such as Ebola is not something that had been in cards previously, officials said.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be standing before this board, or any board here, talking about Ebola,” said Regenye.