As the first Ebola patient in the nation’s history began receiving an experimental treatment in Dallas on Monday, Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order at the Capitol to create a 17-member infectious disease task force.
Dr. Brett Giroir, the CEO of Texas A&M’s Health Science Center, will lead the physicians and scientists and state officials that make up the task force, which Perry said was created to offer support during and after a public health emergency such as this
“Infectious disease outbreaks are real, they are inevitable and even more likely given our interconnected world, where an outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere,” Giroir said. “Therefore we must be fully prepared as a state to address this challenge”
The order comes just shy of a week after a Liberian national was diagnosed in Dallas with Ebola, the first-ever in the country’s history. Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, is in critical condition at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas.
Hospital officials announced Monday that he is now receiving the medicine known as brincidofovir, an oral antiviral manufactured by the Durham, North Carolina company Chimerix. The medicine has been used to treat viruses such as adenovirus and smallpox, which has researchers hopeful it will have a similar impact on treating Ebola.
“Based on in vitro data from work conducted by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health suggesting brincidofovir’s activity against Ebola, we are hopeful that brincidofovir may offer a potential treatment for Ebola Virus Disease during this outbreak,” said Dr. M. Michelle Berrey, Chimerix CEO in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Austin, Perry signed the executive order to develop a comprehensive long-term plan to handle this and other similar emergencies, including building on the state’s existing management plan. Perry also called for the federal government to boost its screening procedures and establish quarantine stations at international airports to help prevent another case of Ebola arriving in the U.S.
Duncan was not symptomatic when he boarded a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. But he is accused of lying about coming into contact with an Ebola patient before that. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said his office is considering filing charges.
Critics have raised questions about the response to the Ebola case.
Duncan was discharged after initially seeking care on September 25. Presbyterian initially blamed the miscue on hospital’s electronic health record system, which, the hospital said, did not show the patient’s travel history on the physician workflow portion of the EHR. THR then corrected that statement, saying “the patient’s travel history was documented and available to the full care team” and “there was no flaw in the EHR.”
Public officials also came under fire for isolating four of Duncan’s family members in their Vickery Meadow apartment with soiled linens he used while he was symptomatic. County Judge Clay Jenkins apologized to the family and moved them to a home in a gated community donated by an individual in the faith community.
Then, over the weekend, a homeless man who was transported in the same ambulance as Duncan went missing despite needing to be monitored twice a day. On Saturday, authorities located him and took him to Parkland Hospital to be evaluated. Dallas County Health and Human Services then took custody of him, said hospital spokesman Frank Trejo. Of the 114 people interviewed by public health officials, 48 were found to have some sort of contact with Duncan.
Ten of those are considered “high risk” and had “definite contact” with Duncan. Four of those are family members and the remaining five are medical professionals, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.
Ebola can only be transmitted by direct contact with a symptomatic patient’s bodily fluids. It is not airborne. Its incubation period is between two and 21 days, with the peak coming between eight and 10.
In the past week, Perry has repeatedly touted Texas’ ability to contain the virus and points to the fact that no one else has developed symptoms. Those who are at risk of becoming symptomatic are having their temperatures taken twice a day and will be isolated at the first sign of a fever.
He mentioned the state’s handling of other disasters: The collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway after it was struck by a barge in South Padre Island, the state’s housing of refugees from Hurricane Katrina, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
“There were errors made in practically every one of those but we learned out of that and what we’ve put into place has made this state as prepared as any state in the nation to deal with disasters,” Perry said. “There were mistakes made and there will probably be mistakes made as we go forward. 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.”
Below are all the members of the Texas Task Force On Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response:
• 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, Departments 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 LeDuc, 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
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted that the homeless man walked out of Parkland Hospital. He did not; he was taken there on Sunday to be evaluated after authorities located him.