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Suffolk plots strategies for Ebola

Suffolk County government and health officials gather in

Suffolk County government and health officials gather in Hauppauge to discuss the county's response in the event of Ebola striking Long Island, Oct. 15, 2014. Credit: Johnny Milano

Health and law enforcement officials from Suffolk County gathered Wednesday to plot strategies in case an individual becomes infected with Ebola.

Almost 40 people from county police agencies, jails and courts reviewed a theoretical scenario of a patient infected with Ebola who is diagnosed in a doctor's office. The tabletop exercise took place at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.

"We learned from watching the Dallas experience the multitude of issues that can come up if there is an infected patient," Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken said. They include determining who decontaminates the victim's residence and establishing legal standing to quarantine a patient or someone in close contact with them.

The presentation included an overview of the virus, how it's transmitted, information about personal protective equipment and quarantine protocols.

Tomarken said that while the risk of an infection in Suffolk is unlikely, "this is the time to review the plan . . . "

The county health department has contacted all 11 hospitals in Suffolk to make sure they're training staff, and to inform hospital officials to contact the county if someone is found to be infected with Ebola.

Dennis Gonzalez, an executive officer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told attendees via phone that the federal government is working with the state and county health departments.

"You are the front line. And we're just the partner to provide resources, to provide guidance, to provide funding -- any assistance you need," Gonzalez said.

He stressed that, "We don't have an epidemic in this country." He said there have been six cases identified in the United States, and that four of those people contracted Ebola in West Africa. "It's definitely under control in this country," Gonzalez said.

Tomarken said some questions remain unanswered, and that "we're waiting for ... clear direction" from federal and state officials. "We don't have a complete picture yet," Tomarken said. "But we have formed a good cooperative relationship to figure out what the issues are."

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