Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday he is recommending that the state should implement a new classification system for monitoring health care workers and others returning from West African nations dealing with the Ebola outbreak.
In a statement on the recommendations, Perry said he had instructed Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey to begin implementing new recommendations issued Oct. 31 by the newly formed Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response.
Those recommendations include developing classifications of individuals based on risk of exposure to Ebola, along with detailed explanations and specific actions for each of the four classifications — high risk of exposure, some risk, low risk and no identifiable risk.
The actions could range from 21 days of twice-daily temperature checks for low-risk patients to 21 days of restricted movement for certain high-risk patients. However, the task force did not recommend strict quarantines for individuals who are asymptomatic and cooperative, unless they are considered high risk.
“Preventing the further spread of the Ebola virus begins with stopping this deadly disease at the source in West Africa, and we are thankful and proud of the dedicated health care professionals who are working to care for patients in Ebola-ravaged nations,” Perry said in his statement. “I appreciate the task force’s work in identifying appropriate measures that effectively balance public health at home with our efforts abroad, and support the implementation of these common-sense measures.”
Perry formed the infectious disease task force in October after a man who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia became the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola. Thomas Eric Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas. Two health care workers who treated him subsequently tested positive for the virus, but have since been declared Ebola-free. A doctor in New York has also tested positive for the deadly virus after returning from treating patients in Guinea.
The issue of handling health care workers coming from West Africa has stirred up controversy elsewhere. In New Jersey, a nurse, held in isolation following a return from Sierra Leone, threatened to sue. She was ultimately allowed to travel to Maine, her home state, where she challenged her quarantine in court.
“Recent events in other states have revealed varying approaches for citizens returning to the U.S., including for those who are cooperative, asymptomatic and with low exposure risk." Brett Giroir, the director of the task force and the CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center, said in a statement. "The task force has, therefore, recommended guidelines for Texas health authorities based upon the best scientific evidence related to Ebola, as well as recent on-the-ground experience in Texas and elsewhere.”
Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
--by Reeve Hamilton with The Texas Tribune