AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry announced Thursday that the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response has issued its full report and recommendations regarding the state’s capabilities to prepare for and respond to infectious diseases, such as the Ebola virus and other emerging pathogens.
In the 174-page report, the task force identified 17 overarching issues following the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States, which occurred in Dallas in September/October 2014. Drawing upon individual interviews, expert testimony, scientific literature and confirmed best practices, the group offered recommendations for addressing these issues to heighten the state’s public health preparedness and response efforts going forward.
“The recommendations contained in this report represent a major step forward in protecting the people of Texas in the event of an outbreak of Ebola or other virulent disease,” Gov. Perry said.
“Texas is fortunate to be home to so many acclaimed experts in medicine, public health and emergency response, and I commend all the members of the Task Force for contributing their expertise and hard work to help improve our state’s readiness for any future outbreak.”
The report includes and builds on several previous recommendations the task force issued on Oct. 17 and 31, which were rapidly reviewed, approved and implemented by Gov. Perry and appropriate state agencies.
“Hundreds of public health and emergency professionals, doctors, nurses, and other health care workers responded to the Texas Ebola emergency rapidly and heroically,” said Dr. Brett P. Giroir, director of the task force and chief executive officer of Texas A&M Health Science Center. “Yet, as this emergency has illustrated, the challenges of a potentially catastrophic infectious disease outbreak extend far beyond routine public health and emergency care. As such, the task force has identified opportunities to improve and strengthen the state’s preparedness and response to any future infectious disease threats or outbreaks.”
Key recommendations from the report include:
• Education of Institutions, Health Care Providers, First Responders, and Others
Education of diverse health care professionals is essential for the initial identification, assessment, triage, care and isolation of patients with Ebola or other uncommon but high consequence infectious diseases. Based on an Oct. 17 task force recommendation, a collaborative educational effort has been launched via a multi-disciplinary group convened by Dr. Ray Greenberg, executive vice chancellor for health affairs with The University of Texas System, to establish applicable content and processes.
• Care and Monitoring of Domestic Animals
Significant consideration should be given to the care, monitoring, and disposition of domestic animals, especially pets. The task force recommends implementation of state-specific guidelines for handling and testing domesticated animals potentially exposed to highly infectious diseases, such as Ebola. The state should identify quarantine facilities for holding and testing potentially exposed animals; identify a veterinary first-responder team that will deploy to disease emergency events; and develop continuing education and online resources for veterinary practitioners.
• Development of Mobile App for Real-time Data Support to Public Health Officials
The state Department of Social and Health Services should establish collaboration with external partners to develop a real-time monitoring system of individuals who have come in contact with an individual who has contracted an infectious disease. The task force, in coordination with Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), has initiated beta testing of a newly developed mobile phone-based, scalable, real-time system to assist for temperature and symptom data support for individuals potentially exposed to Ebola or other infectious diseases.
• Establishment of Biocontainment Treatment Facilities and Pediatric Unit
Following the task force’s release of initial recommendations in October, the state designated two biocontainment treatment facilities – the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and a new facility in North Texas made possible through a partnership with three of the region’s leading health care providers, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Methodist Hospital System and Parkland Hospital System. To ensure that all patient populations receive the appropriate specialized care necessary, the task force recommends that in collaboration with Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, the state should support the establishment and ongoing operation of a dedicated Pediatric Biocontainment Treatment Unit, which will specialize in the care of infants and children with Ebola and other high consequence infectious diseases.
“We are honored to partner with the State of Texas to establish a unique facility and program to provide the highest quality care to infants and children with Ebola and other highly contagious infectious diseases, always with the greatest possible margin of safety,” said Dr. Mark W. Kline, physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “Texas Children’s Hospital specializes in the medical care and treatment of infants and children with the most complex and serious health problems. The challenge of serious infectious diseases is one we accept and confront willingly.”
Other recommendations included issuance of a standardized triage protocol for identifying and diagnosing Ebola patients; implementing a stockpile for personal protective equipment (PPE); guidelines for the monitoring of individuals returning to Texas from Ebola-endemic areas in West Africa; and authority for the governor to declare a “State of Infectious Disease Emergency” that would enable a more rapid and coordinated public health response.
The complete task force report is available http://governor.state.tx.us/files/press-office/Task_Force_Recommendations_12-01-2014.pdf .