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Pandemic

Emergency drill practiced by local, area health care providers

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Public health, emergency management agencies, hospital and law enforcement officials from five counties met at the Marshall County Jail complex Monday through Wednesday to practice distribution of vaccines during a possible health crisis. From left are Scott Potter, certified emergency response team member, Alex Bentley of UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown, Pat Thompson, Marshall County Public Health nurse and Kelly Gjerke, Crisis Services executive assistant.

Anthrax.

Exposure to bacteria.

Coronavirus.

The first two have caused public health emergencies in locales worldwide.

While the spread of coronavirus is low, officials want to be prepared.

That is why it is comforting to know health care and emergency management providers from five counties — Marshall, Boone, Poweshiek, Story and Tama — held a three day drill this week at the Marshall County Jail complex. The drill ended Wednesday.

The consortium was known as 1-B Service Area Health Care Coalition, Marshall County Public Health Nurse Pat Thompson said.

The purpose of the drill was to be prepared for the quick distribution of vaccines or antidotes should the need arise.

Staff from public health departments, hospital, emergency management agencies, emergency management services and law enforcement personnel all practiced drills during the three day time frame.

Staff from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) supervised.

“The IDPH works to help people be prepared in times of health crisis,” Thompson said. “Periodically we have exercises under their supervision, as we did Monday through Wednesday. Practice what we know, and practice our plans.”

Monday was devoted to hospital preparedness, Tuesday for communications and Wednesday for point of distribution of antidotes or vaccines, Kim Elder said. She is the coordinator of Marshall County Emergency Management.

“Being prepared and working as a team is critical,” Elder said. “We learned that from the 2018 tornado.”

Elder said the jail complex was selected as the site for training because it is secure, accessible by four-lane highway, has a loading dock and classrooms.

“The practice drills went well,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of logistics involved.

Having health care providers teamed with emergency management personnel was effective.

There were many, many learning opportunities.”

Echoing Thompson’s remarks were Elder.

“Law enforcement is constantly practicing scenarios,” Elder said. “I am glad the five counties got together and practiced.”

Coronavirus

On Wednesday, the first known case of a person contracting the coronavirus — also known as COVID-19 – without traveling or exposure was confirmed in California. How the patient got infected with the virus is not known.

Thompson said the person had to have exposure somehow, somewhere.

“They did not get in through the mail. They did not get it from a package,” she said.

Thompson confirmed there is a concern the virus could travel on packages, but she said it would not survive.

Thompson will attend a webinar regarding COVID-19 on Friday, but said so far there is no protection against the virus. The immediate risk to people in Marshalltown is low, but the potential for a public health threat is high.

“It is normal to be concerned about this new virus because it is not something you can control,” she said. “It is widespread in certain areas, but not in the U.S. It is okay to be concerned about it, but here in Iowa, we know who is coming in.”

Thompson said she herself is not afraid of it because of there is less people. However she warned against being blasé about it because it is a serious situation. Since it is serious, plans are being made in case something does happen.

Thompson said while people in Marshalltown do not have to actively prepare for an outbreak of COVID-19 at this time, she said people should still think about it the possibility.

“Prepare for it like you would for bad weather,” she said. “What are you going to do if you can’t leave the house and get groceries?”

Making plans for what would happen if a child could not go to day care or go to school, or for a parent to not go to work are equally important, Thompson said.

“What will you do if the kids get out of school early or if they are sick or their day care provider is sick?” she asked. “People should have a backup for that and for the times when life does not go easily.”

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com and Lana Bradstream at lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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