Riverside County prepares for possibility of Ebola outbreak

With growing concerns of an outbreak of the Ebola epidemic on U.S. soil, the county of Riverside and its residents are spreading awareness and putting countermeasures in place to combat the threat of the disease before it hits western soil.

Via a televised press conference Oct. 6, President Barack Obama assured the nation that chances of outbreak on U.S. soil are “extraordinarily low.” Despite this message, the county of Riverside has been working diligently to ensure that the hospitals, as well as the public, are fully aware of the disease and are taking measures to ensure the readiness of its medical facilities in the event that an incident occurs.

The Riverside county public health offices have amped up their environmental health response measures to ensure that the county is prepared in the event an Ebola case enters the doors of an emergency room within the county. The department of public health has a rapid response team that is able to be deployed at any given time to respond to an isolated case and collect data and assess the possibility of an outbreak.

“There are lots of diseases that by state law must be reported to public health. Ebola, although it would be an unusual occurrence, must be reported immediately,” explained Barbra Cole, director of Disease Control for the Riverside County Department of Public Health. “We have a 24/7, 365 days-a-year call system. Now, lets say it’s 2 a.m. and someone is seen in the emergency department and they just came back within 21 days from one of the impacted West African countries. (The emergency department is) expected to pick up the phone and call us. (Say, for instance) we’re not in the office. They’ll reach our service, which would directly page our public health duty officer.”

To ensure that patient is brought to the right facility and receives the appropriate care, the county has the California Health Alert Network to transmit information as well as send alerts to all of the outlying clinics and hospitals within the county simultaneously. A survey is also currently being conducted to assess the overall readiness of Riverside County’s medical facilities for receiving and caring for a patient who has contracted the disease.

On its public health website, the county has released a series of public health advisories regarding commonly asked questions about the virus, how it works and what safety precautions to take if someone is near a person suspected of carrying the virus.

Riverside County’s Public Health department is not alone to spread awareness. Hands for Africa, a non-profit organization focused on restoring areas and lives impacted by conflict diamonds in the Sierra Leone Republic, one of the African countries heavily impacted by Ebola, is also making an effort to spread Ebola awareness in southern California. Representatives from the organization recently visited Riverside City College, among other colleges, to talk to students and spread awareness of both the effects of the virus itself and the situation in Sierra Leone to encourage action among college students.

“Students tend to be more open-minded about what’s going on in the world,” said Tanya Shake, an HFA youth representative. “Students tend to be more receptive and help spread the word to family and friends.”

“With global travel today, someone could fly from here to anywhere in the world in two days. (The threat of Ebola) is possible,” Cole said. “There isn’t exactly a high probability, but it is certainly possible. Therefore, we want our hospitals and our medical community ready to respond.”