By Brenda Flanagan
Screeners red-flagged him at the airport and EMS brought the feverish Liberian passenger to an isolation room at Newark’s University Hospital.
Diagnosis: “He’s asymptomatic and there’s no indication he’s infected,” said Gov. Chris Christie, which the CDC later confirmed. The governor meanwhile presented a stepped-up Ebola response plan, appointing three New Jersey hospitals as so-called Tier Two facilities where possible Ebola cases must be quarantined: University Hospital in Newark, Hackensack University Medical Center and Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick.
“They need to be prepared to triage, isolate and protect immediately,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd. “The CDC is going to have a tech assistance team visit each one of these institutions to help them in preparing, drilling and being ready.”
They’ll drill staff in the CDC’s latest, upgraded safety protocols, the health commissioner says. New Jersey also bought and stockpiled $1 million worth of extra PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment.) Hackensack’s already assembled an Ebola SWAT Team.
“People who are experienced — physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. We’ve been educating them on the CDC guidelines. We’re also preparing a couple of ambulances for special transport. A lot of education has gone on with the ambulance squads,” said Robert Garrett.
New federal travel restrictions kicked in today, requiring all passengers arriving in the U.S. whose travel originated in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to fly into one of the five airports designated for screening, including Newark. Christie says a travel ban wouldn’t do much.
“What you’d need to really do is a visa suspension because no one flies here from West Africa directly to the U.S.,” he said.
Since screening began in Newark, the Customs and Border Protection reports, staff pulled 37 passengers aside, but no one had a fever or went to the hospital until this latest case. If the CDC orders a passenger to quarantine themselves through the 21-day incubation period New Jersey’s Department of Human Services will provide temporary housing.
“We’re taking this extraordinarily seriously, but we are not gonna be in the business of stoking hysteria about this in the public,” Christie said.
The governor says even his daughter Brigitte was affected.
“She’s telling me she’s scared and nervous about whether she’s gonna get Ebola,” he said.
Christie says his Ebola Task Force also reassured the Liberian community, where sensitivities are high.
“It’s a joke, you know? Everything to people is a joke. You walk around and try to shake somebody’s hand — Oh, Ebola, typical reaction. It’s not a nice thing, but you got no control over it,” said Christie.
So, what happens if a quarantined patient does test positive for Ebola? The health commissioner says the CDC will then coordinate transportation to a special federal treatment center.