WSMR held three Town Halls in an effort to educate and inform the community about Ebola, the precautionary measures in place to protect the Soldiers, Civilians, and Families of WSMR from it, and on the current precautionary procedures in place for a family that is visiting the installation from West Africa.
The first Town Hall was held on Tuesday, a second was held Wednesday evening, and a third is scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the Post Theater.
WSMR Garrison Commander Col. Brian Michelson and McAfee Commander Lt. Col. Elba Villacorta led the Town Halls. Many of the recent procedures implemented on post, such as at the Child Development Center, and today’s Town Hall, were already being put in place due to Army guidance. The installation’s leadership was informed of the family’s visit by the New Mexico Department of Health, and their arrival simply accelerated the process and necessitated a broader and more immediate education effort. This was due to the fact that Ebola is not well understood and because of this, the arrival of a family from West Africa to WSMR could induce significant fear. The family arrived on Oct. 31, and has been exceptionally cooperative and understands why we are doing what we are doing.
WSMR medical personnel assessed the family members upon arrival, found no signs, symptoms or risk indicators, and continue to conduct face to face monitoring daily. In addition to daily monitoring for 21 days, and in accordance with WSMR, New Mexico, and National health guidelines, the family from West Africa will not visit densely populated areas on post, such as the eating establishments, pool, gym, etc. The host Soldier’s Family has voluntarily agreed to keep their children out of school this week to enable the chain of command to educate and inform our community with facts and reduce the “fear factor”.
“There’s a lot of fear and misinformation about Ebola. The disease is new to us in America and we’re all learning about it now. The WSMR team is exceptionally vigilant and exceeding all standards to ensure our community is protected,” Michelson said.
Villacorta and McAfee Deputy Chief Nurse Maj. Katie Rivera presented a briefing on Ebola and answered medical questions.
“It’s a topic that creates fear and we understand that fear. That’s why we’re trying to educate everyone,” Villacorta said.
Rivera shared a short video on the facts about Ebola and how Ebola is contracted. Ebola cannot be spread through water, food, insect bites or by air and is only contagious at the first sign of a fever.
“You’re only infected if the fluid you contact is infected by the disease. Unlike the flu, the disease is not airborne. It is not transmitted by air,” Villacorta said.
Ebola spread in West Africa due to poor living conditions, misinformation, cultural traditions, and a lack of trust in health care. Infections in health care settings were common due to lack of proper protective equipment and reuse of syringes.
A reported 53,286 individuals died from complications of flu and pneumonia in 2011, according to the CDC. There are 9 known cases of Ebola in the U.S. and only one death from the disease.
“Academically we know something but emotionally we have a very different response,” Michelson said. “That is why we need to separate fact from fear.”
The meeting was also held to inform the community that if any signs of a change in health were to occur in the visiting family, the WSMR emergency team is prepared to take action. If the family visiting from West Africa were to display even a low grade fever, there is a contracted ambulance set in place that will transport the individuals to a hospital to determine if the illness is in fact a case of Ebola. The WSMR family who is hosting the visiting family will then be closely monitored and have their movement restricted.
Villacorta said there is currently a system in place at the clinic where health care workers are asking patients three questions to determine their Ebola risk factor. If the patients answer ‘yes’ to any of the three questions, there is a system of procedures that the health care worker must follow.
“We’re in constant contact with the New Mexico Department of Health. We know how to identify and how to limit exposure,” Villacorta said. “This is not anything new. We have constant training on Ebola and the proper protective equipment.”
The entire command team wants to re-iterate that there is no current medical threat, that the WSMR medical team is hypervigilant in monitoring our guest family, that we are fully prepared for contingencies, and that we will continue to communicate clearly and transparently.
Keep Calm and WSMR on!
If you have further questions, please contact your chain of command or your healthcare provider.
For more information on the disease, visit:
Army Medical Command Ebola Information Line: 1-800-984-8523