Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff headed to Ohio Thursday to assist with state and local Ebola response efforts following reports that a Dallas nurse who tested positive for the virus visited the state prior to her diagnosis. At the request of Gov. John Kasich, the liaisons will coordinate efforts between Ohio and the CDC, as well as assist in contact tracing efforts to determine who may have come in contact with Ebola patient Amber Vinson during her recent four-day trip to Summit County. The Department of Health also stepped up its Ebola containment strategies on Thursday by issuing new guidelines to health departments and providers stating that anyone who has come into direct contact with the Ebola patient should be quarantined for 21 days and monitored by doctors. ODH defines direct contact to include shaking hands.
Meanwhile, anyone who came within a three-foot radius of the patient for an extended period of time, such as those passengers who rode on the airplane from Cleveland to Dallas alongside Ms. Vinson, should check body temperature twice daily for 21 days. At least one symptom check should be completed by a doctor, according to the revised protocols. Others who were in the vicinity of Ms. Vinson are also being asked to monitor their health at home and contact doctors if they experience Ebola symptoms, which include fever, unexplained bruising and bleeding, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea.
"The ODH guidelines are being recommended out of an abundance of caution to take strong measures to protect Ohio residents," Dr. Mary DiOrio, state epidemiologist and interim chief of the ODH Bureau of Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a statement. "It has become clear that we cannot be too careful in efforts to contain the spread of this deadly disease." The day before reports that Ms. Vinson had been in Akron from Oct. 10-13 and had an elevated temperature prior to boarding a plane at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Ms. DiOrio and other state health officials said it was highly unlikely that Ohio would be at risk for an Ebola outbreak.
In an effort to respond to questions regarding the virus and the state's response to it, ODH has opened a 24-hour call center that can be reached at 866-800-1404. The call center, which is housed at ODH and staffed by public health nurses and other public health professionals, officially began operations Wednesday night, the department said. Also taking strict precautions to contain the virus were two Cleveland-area schools that closed Thursday to be disinfected after district leaders learned that a teacher may have flown on the same plane, but not the same flight, as Ms. Vinson. According to emails sent from Solon Middle School and Parkside Elementary School, the CDC and local health department did not order the schools to be closed and have said that the staff member is not at risk for contracting Ebola. "We made the decision to close Solon Middle and Parkside for tomorrow out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our students and staff," the email stated. A Cleveland Municipal School District building was open to students Thursday after being disinfected overnight. The precautions were taken after it was determined that a teacher may have come in contact with Ms. Vinson. The Cranwood School teacher will not return to work until cleared to do so by health professionals, district spokeswoman Roseann Canfora said in an email.
FirstEnergy also sent two workers home Thursday, with pay, to be isolated for the incubation period of up to 21 days. The company said in a statement that one worker was identified by the CDC as having had contact with Ms. Vinson during her visit and a second worker self-identified as possibly having had contact. ODH recommended that Ohio hospitals conduct training and practice drills within the next two days to ensure that they're prepared to safely test and treat potential Ebola patients. The training of frontline staff should include instruction on how to properly receive, isolate and implement proper infection control practices for a potential Ebola patient as well as how to properly put on and remove personal protective equipment, the department said.
Director Rick Hodges said in ODH efforts to connect with health care providers, it has learned that a "recurring theme" among nurses is that more training is needed on the use of personal protective equipment. ODH also said Thursday that agency leaders will continue to consult with infectious disease experts until it's determined that the virus has been contained.
In the meantime, Senate President Keith Faber said the upper chamber will not move forward with joint legislative hearings on the state's Ebola response. Democrats called for the meetings immediately following reports that Ms. Vinson was in Ohio. "You don't ask the firefighters to jump off the truck on their way to the fire and explain how they plan to put it out," he said in a statement. "I think it's best right now for us to step back and let the experts do their jobs. Unlike the federal government, the governor's administration has taken a proactive and transparent approach to the threat. We need to give them room and that isn't helped at this point by a legislative hearing process.