AUSTIN, Texas — In a press conference today at the Capitol, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the formation of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, to “assess and enhance the state’s existing capabilities to prepare for and respond to pandemic disease, such as the Ebola virus.” Dr. Brett Giroir, the executive Vice President and CEO of the Texas A&M Health Center, was appointed as the Task Force’s director, and other members included former state senator Dr. Kyle Janek, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services Dr. David Lakey, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Colonel Steve McCraw, Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard Major General John Nichols, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams, and other medical, scientific, and legal experts.
The Task Force has been assigned to study and come up with policy recommendations covering a wide variety of issues, covering public health, transportation, disaster preparedness, environmental issues, national security issues, etc. According to Giroir, their main duties will be to assess the situation and be a resource to Texas government officials, make sure the state of Texas is prepared to respond, and to serve as a “reliable source of information and education” to a public that was understandably concerned. Specifically regarding hospital preparedness, Giroir stressed the need to swiftly identify and medically isolate any affected patients, while not crippling the daily health service functions of the hospitals.
Perry cited past disasters, some natural, some man-made, that had occurred in Texas during his term as Governor as examples for how Texas was uniquely prepared to respond to challenges like the threat of an Ebola outbreak, such as Hurricane Katrina, acknowledging that “there were errors made in practically every one” but that the state had learned vital lessons regarding what responses and strategies were effective. Perry said that he would have obviously preferred that the Ebola situation not have happened in the United States but that it was best that it happened in Texas, because of the state’s unique experience. Perry said that the response so far showed that the “system was working,” noting that “we don’t have an outbreak,” there was only the one isolated case so far, and that he had “great respect, great faith” in the Task Force team.
In response to a question from a reporter about whether a travel ban was needed from the West African countries where Ebola was most prevalent, Perry rejected that idea as not the most effective way to deal with the problem, instead advocating for improved advance screening at airports and other points of entry. This screening, according to Perry, should include obtaining additional information, checking temperatures, and staffing quarantine stations to help prevent the disease from entering the country.
The Task Force will issue written reports on its findings and recommendations, including legislative recommendations, to Governor Perry and the Texas Legislature, with its first report is due by Dec. 1, 2014 and the second by Feb. 1, 2015, with the potential for additional reports as deemed necessary. A copy of Perry’s executive order creating the Task Force and a complete list of members is posted on the Governor’s website.
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