Christie: NJ Hospitals and Newark airport ready for Ebola
There have not been any cases of Ebola diagnosed or confirmed in New Jersey, but health officials are preparing for the possibility.
"No one should be out there tonight, significantly worried about it in New Jersey," Gov. Chris Christie said last night.
"Panic is not our friend, in any of this," the governor said on last night's 'Ask the Governor' program on New Jersey 101.5.
Federal officials are "getting ready to prepare us with some greater tools to test," Christie said.
Newark's Liberty International Airport will start screening passengers from three West African countries on Thursday, and hospitals have been told to test their readiness to handle the epidemic that has killed more than 4,000 people in Africa and one man in the United States.
New Jersey hospitals are being told to test their emergency departments' readiness to handle Ebola cases this week.
In a letter sent to the hospitals dated Oct. 10, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd asked them to send fake patients to the hospital to see if hospital staff identifies them as potential Ebola patients and handles the cases appropriately.
Part of the purpose is to see if hospital workers can also put on protective gear correctly.
"The purpose of this is to really ensure that our ED – emergency departments - and other personnel are well educated and ready to deal with a potential real case who might walk through their door," O'Dowd said.
She says patients will be screened appropriately – and asked about their travel history – and if a potential Ebola case is identified, the state wants to make sure the proper procedures are followed.
"We want to make sure hospital personnel are quickly acting to isolate the individual and protect themselves with personal protective equipment," O'Dowd said. "We want to make sure that our healthcare providers feel ready to deal with any potentially infectious patient that walks through their doors."
According to O'Dowd, the drills will help all healthcare providers become more familiar with the use of protective equipment and the quick identification and isolation of patients.
"That is really the key to stop the spread of the virus," she said.
O'Dowd said if a particular hospital does not follow protocol in the drill or makes a serious mistake, they will not be identified or singled out.
"We really produce an environment where full reporting takes place and we have an opportunity to really learn from it. We want our healthcare providers to understand this is a safe space, a learning opportunity for them, and that there will be no punitive action taken. It’s important to remember the Health Department also has a role of inspection and enforcement with hospitals and we want them to know this exercise is not part of that work," she said.
Customs and health officials at Newark Liberty International Airport will take the temperatures of passengers from three West African countries starting Thursday.
Federal health officials say the entry screenings add another layer of protection to halt the spread of the Ebola virus. Screeners will use no-touch thermometers to try to find passengers with fevers.
The screenings started at New York's Kennedy International Airport on Saturday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that screenings will start Thursday at Newark, along with Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.
Customs officials say about 150 people travel daily from or through Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the United States. Nearly 95 percent of them land first at one of those five airports.
Christie said New Jersey officials are working closely with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other federal departments to be as ready as we can.
"Our healthcare systems are preparing and ready with the type of protocols that need to be followed," Christie said. "Folks need to be cognizant and aware of this stuff, but nobody should be significantly worried about it. New Jersey, for the moment-- We've had no reported cases of Ebola here, and we're going to do everything we can to be ready in case we confront it,"
Christie wouldn't say whether he supports a total travel ban from African countries where Ebola is widespread, but he did say he has real concerns about the freedom of traveling.
Townsquare Media Reporter David Matthau and Associated Press contributed to this report.
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