City, state and federal agencies hold Ebola exercise

Mayor holds news conference on table-top exercise (FOX 8 photo)
Mayor holds news conference on table-top exercise (FOX 8 photo)

Ships from around the globe have no problem finding the Crescent City. And because New Orleans is a thriving port city, the Ebola epidemic cannot be ignored.

On Monday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu along with representatives of city, state and federal agencies held a table-top exercise to test local response to an Ebola emergency.

Part of the exercise focused on making sure lines of communication between critical local, state and federal agencies are precise.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals also wants to make sure that health care professionals around the state are clear on what questions to ask patients suspected of having Ebola symptoms. This is critical because some flu symptoms are similar to symptoms of the Ebola virus that continues to ravage parts of West Africa.

"So imagine if every few patients said, 'I think I have Ebola.' That's total panic. They've never been around Ebola patients - there's no way that they have Ebola," said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state's health officer and the Department of Health and Human Services medical director.

Getting the initial interaction right between medical professionals and patients is critical since Louisiana does not have any Ebola test kits, Guidry said.

"We don't have any here in the state. It's all done through CDC," he said. "We need their permission to run the test. They have the test."

Every day, huge ships registered to place like Monrovia, Liberia, traverse the Mississippi River alongside New Orleans.

"If someone's here in triage, and they say 'I've been to Liberia and I was exposed to an Ebola patient,' then that patient is put into an isolation room and that information is shared immediately with the provider that's going to see them, so there's no failure of communication," Guidry said.

State health officials said vital lessons were learned last month about gaps in communication between some governmental agencies when a Liberian-flagged ship docked in Belle Chasse with sick crew members and were taken to a local hospital with suspicious symptoms. One of the crew members was diagnosed with malaria - not Ebola -  but there was a scare nonetheless.

"The protocols are now tight, and they're in place about who's supposed to do what, when, where," said Mayor Landrieu.

New Orleans EMS Director Dr. Jeffrey Elder said crews are ready to handle any suspected cases that may turn up in the city.

"We have all the equipment and the right suits and covers and masks and all that, and gloves. So, we've just kind of honed our policy for that, for this specific threat," Elder said. "We'll collect anything we need to collect in bio-hazard bags for waste, and then we'll dispose of it according to all the regulations."

Louisiana homeland security officials say foreign ships that want to enter Louisiana waters are required to notify the Coast Guard if someone is sick, but with the Ebola scare, they're taking it to another level.

"Their now protocol is they will notify the ship and ask the question before ever entering Louisiana waters," said Dr. Kevin Darvis, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. When they contact them about coming into our port, the first question they're going to ask them is do you have any ill seamen on board, and what was your origination?"

"You have to make sure that somebody had some exposure," Guidry said. "I mean, if they've had no exposure to Ebola to use these test kits, and there's no risk whatsoever, it doesn't make any sense."

He said test kits can be gotten quickly from the CDC, but results may take 24 to 48 hours.

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