SUNY Mandates Ebola Preparedness At Colleges

On Oct. 17 SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher issued a memorandum in a letter to all SUNY university presidents and chief academic advisors regarding guidelines and preparation in relation to the ongoing outbreaks of Ebola.

The letter outlined seven primary changes that are to be implemented in effort of “increasing system-level support” for SUNY-wide health and safety while Ebola remains a prominent concern for those traveling both domestically and abroad.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, there are five identified Ebola virus species, four of which are known to cause disease in humans. Ebola is spread through direct contact  with blood or body fluids, including but not limited to: urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk and semen.

Signs and symptoms of Ebola include fever, severe headaches, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea and  vomiting, which often leads to stomach pain and unexplained internal and external bleeding or bruising. Symptoms can show anywhere from two to 21 days after an individual’s exposure to Ebola, according to the CDC.

A system-wide Ebola Working Group has expanded to include campus specialists in medical management, public health, emergency management, international programs and student services on all 64 campuses, according to the letter. The group’s Steering Committee is chaired by Dr. John F. Williams, M.D., Ed. D., M.P.H., and President of SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Richard J. Ordway, director of student health services, serves as the the mandatory main contact for SUNY New Paltz, SUNY New Paltz Chief of Staff Shelly Wright said.

Dean of International Programs, Bruce Sillner, is in charge of enforcing the prohibited travel by students or faculty to countries that have a CDC Level 3 travel warning within any campus-related or funded activities, including study abroad or Research Foundation grant activity.

Currently, there are no students or faculty members  traveling in any of the “off-limit” countries, which include Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, Wright said. Campuses are required, however, to “continue to work to identify potential travelers from affected areas,” according to the letter, as well as continue to provide information on Ebola and its related procedures to the campus community.

In addition, campuses must review former campus public health emergency documents and conduct simulated emergency drills.

“We already have pandemic flu guidelines, but this isn’t airborne – different protocol is in place here,” Wright said.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said the university is waiting to receive detailed instruction from both SUNY and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) as to what these simulated emergency drills for a response to an Ebola occurrence would entail.

“SUNY is working with particular ambulance providers and coordinating with local hospitals that would be the primary place a student who might possibly have Ebola would be transported to,” Christian said.

All three SUNY hospitals have been involved in drills focusing on patient recognition and isolation. The still to be determined campus drills will also include recognition and isolation of Ebola-suspected students and faculty and the use of personal protective equipment, as stated in the letter.

Finally, the memorandum stated all universities must continue to comply with the guidelines from NYS DOH, CDC and local health authorities. Wright said SUNY New Paltz will begin meeting more often with the Emergency Response Team, which includes University Police, the Office Environmental Health and Safety, facilities, Human Resources and student affairs, in order to keep up to date on what guidelines should be met and maintained while the concern of Ebola remains prevalent.

Yet Christian said while it is important to prepare for such an occurrence, the anxiety that this virus is causing should not take priority over health risks that are more feasible.

“As a society we don’t do well in evaluating risks,” Christian said.

He said the school will continue to push the message that students and faculty should get their flu shots and uphold the maintaining of overall health.