Date: October 19, 2014
From: Theresa Berg, Public Health Administrator
Re: Ebola concerns in our community
As of this date, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in Rock Island County.
The following is a brief summary of what the Rock Island County Health Department (RICHD) has been doing upon becoming aware that an individual recently traveled here from Liberia to live locally with family. The information or comments reported in the media is very limited and sometimes misleading due to editing of full comments made by myself or other RICHD employees to media representatives.
- The Rock Island County Health Department did not receive any type of official notification that an individual had recently relocated to Rock Island after having lived in, and traveled directly from Liberia. At this time, there is no process for notification to a local health departmentregarding an individual’s travel.
- The information to which we initially had access was contained in a local newspaper article. Several names were included in the article – the woman who had just arrived from Liberia, her father and other family members. RICHD learned that the family contacted the media, and provided their names to the reporter. The name of Jennifer Philips was published in the newspaper as the recent traveler from Liberia. Normally RICHD would not identify names of clients with whom we are working.
- I was contacted by professionals from Augustana College who inquired whether there were any measures they should take since the father of Ms. Philips is an employee of the college. With this new experience to our community, and the nationwide discussion about Ebola, they were proactive and wanted to be responsible for the health and safety of all connected to Augustana College. I advised that since I did not have information regarding the health status of Ms. Philips, their employee should go home and stay there. They complied with this request.
- RICHD consulted with an infectious disease specialist at Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and obtained a series of questions with which to interview Ms. Philips. We obtained a phone number and were able to speak with Jennifer Philips and her father, Barhyeau Philips.
- When RICHD staff interviewed Ms. Philips, she reported having no exposure to Ebola in Liberia. She reported having no symptoms and no fever. We then contacted IDPH again to obtain guidance. They stated that since Ms. Philips reported no exposure to Ebola, and she had no fever and no symptoms, a mandatory quarantine was not indicated according to current CDC protocols.
- Although a mandatory quarantine or isolation of Ms Philips or any member of the family was not scientifically or legally supported according to current regulations, as Public Health Administrator for Rock Island County I asked that the entire family observe a voluntary quarantine for at least 21 days. This was requested as an extra precaution for safety.
- The request for voluntary quarantine was also made to avoid disruption of activities at Augustana College or Rock Island High School, at which Mr. Philips’ son is a student.
- Although we are not required to do so, RICHD has provided thermometers to all five family members in the house. We have provided education on the proper use of the thermometers. For a period of at least 21 days, our staff will be in communication with them twice per day and will be keeping a log of reported temperatures. They are also questioned twice daily about symptoms.
- It is not legally supported to post a law enforcement officer at the residence to verify that the family is observing quarantine. If someone in the home had a known exposure to a case of Ebola, then quarantine could be legally enforced – Public Health has the authority to obtain a court order for such purposes. According to the information from Ms. Philips, a mandatory quarantine does not apply in this situation, so it is a voluntary quarantine. The Philips family has been very cooperative and has communicated openly and willingly with RICHD staff.
- One of the local media reported that RICHD is testing the family for Ebola. Local health departments across the nation do not have the ability to test for Ebola. There are a limited number of state and federal laboratories with the capability to test for Ebola. RICHD is monitoring temperatures and symptoms.
- Many communicable diseases are reportable by law to the local public health department of the county in which an individual resides. This includes Ebola. If an individual would be tested and found positive for Ebola, and that individual’s residence was within Rock Island County, RICHD would be notified. As with other communicable diseases, public health is then responsible for contact tracing and investigation to prevent further spread of the infection.
- We have been in contact with many citizens with specific Ebola questions, and are answering them as quickly as possible. We are also working with health care partners in the community to coordinate with them on guidance regarding measures such as patient screening.
- We have had internal meetings for Health Department staff, preparing them for telephone inquiries and for education of our clients and visitors. We have been in communication with staff from Scott County Health Department, Unity Point and Genesis. I have consulted with Dr. Maurus, our Medical Director. I have had numerous media interviews.
- The Rock Island County Health Department is very aware of our important role in preventing and controlling the spread of communicable disease. As Administrator I do not want to give Ebola information to the public that promotes a false sense of security. I also do not want anyone to panic and experience unnecessary fear. I will make every attempt to ensure that we provide careful guidance and information on what is known at this time about Ebola. I do not want RICHD to provide assurances where there is not confidence in all information.
- As with any controversial topic, there is a range of emotion, opinion, and attitude. I am respectful of that and acknowledge that the deadly nature of Ebola sets it apart from many other health risks. Official guidelines by CDC, WHO, IDPH and state statutes direct what Rock Island County Health Department is able to do in response to suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola and other communicable diseases. I believe when unknown factors exist it is better to take extra precautions and will recommend or implement those when I am able to do so.
- Please phone or email me with your concerns or suggestions.Office phone: 309-558-2802, email: email@example.com Our website is richd.org
- IDPH has created a 24 hour Ebola hotline at: 800-889-3931 or visit www.ebola.illinois.gov
- Thank you for your interest and concern regarding the health of those in Rock Island County!
For more information on Ebola, please click on these links.