Texas forms task force to combat pandemic diseases

Gov. Rick Perry announces a task force to to combat pandemic diseases

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the creation of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response to help the state from a long-term plan to handle the state’s response to a pandemic disease, such as Ebola.

“Over the past several days we have learned a lot about the unique challenges of situations like this, and it’s important that we continue to adapt our response to these realities,” Perry said. “This task force will develop a comprehensive, long-term plan to ensure Texas deals effectively with any potential outbreak, building on our existing State Emergency Plan and will cover all phases of preparedness and response.”

Led by Texas A&M Health Science Center CEO and Dr. Brett Giroir, the task force also consists of the commissioners for the Texas Health and Human Services and Department of State Health Services, as well as public health experts, epidemiologists and leadership from state agencies that would be involved in the response to a pandemic event. Perry says it’s many of the same, familiar faces the public is used to seeing during response in a hurricane disaster — only there are even more people added to the task force who can offer their expertise about infectious diseases.

“If there are more capable men and women in this country, I don’t know who they are,” said Perry, who also touched on Texas’ preparedness and response when it comes to disasters, natural or man-made. “What we learned: There were errors made in practically every one of those … I stand by the fact that, the process is working. We don’t have an outbreak. We have one event that is being handled properly. We are monitoring the individuals.”

Giroir spoke after Perry at the Capitol press conference.

“Infectious disease outbreaks are real. They are inevitable,” said Giroir. “Therefore, we must be fully prepared to address this challenge as a state.”

Right off the top, Giroir wanted to make two things clear:

  1. The presence of Ebola is a serious concern, however all appropriate identification and control measures have been implemented and are working.
  2. The Ebola virus can only be spread by direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person who is actively symptomatic. It is not spread by air or water. You are not at risk if you have been in direct contact with an infected person.

Giroir also laid out the specific objectives of the task force:

  • to provide expert, evidence-based assessments, protocols and recommendations related to the current Ebola response and develop a strategic emergency management plan for incident command teams and their partners on a state and local level of government
  • to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure Texas is prepared for and can rapidly respond to a potentially widespread outbreak of infectious diseases, building upon the existing State of Texas Emergency Management Plan. That addresses multiple aspects of preparing for, responding to and recovering from public health and medical crises in the state.
  • to serve as a reliable source of information, a resource for Texas leadership and citizens — as well as leaders from other states

“We live in an interconnected world, where an outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere,” said Giroir. “As a result, control of future potential disease outbreaks will present even greater challenges. Preparedness requires clear, decisive, and prospective management aimed not only at rapid response, but also long-term solutions. The timelines for containment of a serious outbreak mandate that we are fully prepared for the worst-case scenario, no matter form that may take.”

Giroir said the task force is here to serve the people of Texas, and he added that they’ve already identified objectives to work on.

  1. hospital preparedness, a key step in controlling Ebola or a similar disease.
  2. decontamination and waste disposal
  3. care of patients being monitored

The Task Force will issue written reports on its findings and recommendations, including legislative recommendations, to the governor and Legislature. The first report is due Dec. 1, and the second is due Feb. 1, 2015 — with the potential for additional reports as the Task Force deems necessary.

Perry also called on federal officials to ramp up screening at ports of entry, such as checking body temperatures and getting more information about a person’s travel history.

Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of a report that the Texas Ebola patient was in critical condition at a Dallas hospital.

Real-time leadership test for Perry

The first diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S. has presented Perry with another real-time leadership test to look presidential, or ineffective, on a national stage. Perry appears to be considering another run for the White House in 2016 and is not seeking re-election to another term as Texas governor. He has been trying to rehabilitate his political reputation since his 2011 “oops moment” during a nationally televised presidential debate.

Political observers say the Ebola case diagnosed in Dallas presents the Republican governor with the chance to show he can successfully lead an emergency response effort. But they also say Perry’s political fortunes could be weakened if the virus isn’t contained.

Task Force members

  • Dr. Brett Giroir: CEO, Texas A&M Health Science Center
  • Dr. Kyle Janek: executive commissioner, Texas Health and Human Services
  • Dr. David Lakey: commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services
  • Dr. Gerald Parker: vice president, Public Health Preparedness and Response, Texas A&M Health Science Center. Dr. Parker will serve as deputy director of the task force.
  • Dr. Tammy Beckham: director, Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory and the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases, Texas A&M University
  • Dr. Peter Hotez: founding dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine; professor, Department of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology; president, Sabin Vaccine Institute
  • Dr. Thomas Ksiazek: virologist and an expert in the field of epidemiology/ecology and laboratory diagnosis of hemorrhagic fevers and arthropod-borne viral diseases, University of Texas Medical Branch Sealy Center for Vaccine Development
  • Dr. James LeDue, Ph.D: director, Galveston National Laboratory; professor of microbiology and immunology and director of the Program on Global Health, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity
  • Dr. Scott Lillibridge: professor of epidemiology and assistant dean, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health
  • Dr. Victoria Sutton: associate dean for Research and Faculty Development; director, Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy, Texas Tech University School of Law
  • Richard Hyde: executive director, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • Tim Irvine: executive director, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
  • Nim Kidd: chief, Texas Division of Emergency Management
  • Col. Steve McCraw: executive director, Texas Department of Public Safety
  • Maj. Gen. John Nichols: adjutant general of the State of Texas
  • Lt. Gen. Joseph Weber: executive director, Texas Department of Transportation
  • Michael Williams: commissioner, Texas Education Agency

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