Building on previous suggestions, including the establishment of two specialized Ebola treatment centers, a task force on Thursday released its full report on how the state could better handle an outbreak of an infectious disease.
The Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, created in October by Gov. Rick Perry after a man was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, called for new education efforts to help health care providers be better prepared to identify new diseases.
The panel’s 174-page report also recommended the creation of guidelines for handling pets that may have been exposed to infectious diseases, a mobile app to help monitor potentially exposed individuals, and the establishment of a treatment facility specifically for children and infants.
"The recommendations contained in this report represent a major step forward in protecting the people of Texas in the event of an outbreak of Ebola or other virulent disease," Perry said in a statement.
The first person in the U.S. diagnosed with Ebola, Thomas Eric Duncan, died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. The virus had infected two Texas health care workers, but they have since been declared Ebola-free. The disease has killed more than 6,000 people in West Africa.
In October, Perry announced the creation of Ebola treatment facilities in North Texas and Galveston based on earlier suggestions from the task force.
The pediatric unit recommended in the task force’s latest report is expected to be created in collaboration with Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.
Previous recommendations from the panel also included new protocols for monitoring health care workers and others returning from West African nations dealing with the Ebola outbreak.
Brett Giroir, the director of the Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response and the chief executive officer of Texas A&M Health Science Center, said health professionals responded "rapidly and heroically" this fall after Ebola arrived in Texas.
"Yet, as this emergency has illustrated," he said in a statement, "the challenges of a potentially catastrophic infectious disease outbreak extend far beyond routine public health and emergency care."
Other recommendations in the task force’s report include implementing a stockpile of personal protective equipment and granting the governor the authority to declare a "state of infectious disease emergency," during which local control is temporarily overridden and the Department of State Health Services commissioner has "leadership authority for all state and local public health policy decisions, procedures, and disease control measures necessary to contain and ultimately overcome the infectious disease emergency."
The task force also recommends that the commissioner have ultimate authority over how the body of an individual who dies from Ebola is disposed of — and they strongly encourage cremation.
Texans are also recommended to encourage their representatives in the U.S. Congress to make some changes at the federal level, including increasing funding to the Federal Hospital Preparedness Program, which has experienced significant cuts in the last decade. The report calls for federal authorities to be pressed to communicate more effectively about experimental treatments for such viruses and how to obtain them.
The report conveys lingering frustrations about previous efforts to acquire treatments for Ebola patients, which ultimately had to be done outside of the standard channels.
"Federal authorities have failed to supply actionable information during the Ebola emergency in Dallas," the report says. "At best, information – when available – was piecemeal, abstract, incomplete, and contained little actionable information such as where and how to get the therapeutic."
Disclosure: Texas A&M University and Texas Children's Hospital are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
--by Reeve Hamilton with The Texas Tribune