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Panel Scrutinizes Texas' Response to Ebola, Offers Insight on Future Action

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KUT News
The Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services met on Oct. 7, 2014 to review how prepared Texas is to handle cases of infectious diseases.

The Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee convened in Austin today to home in on what Texas has done in response to having the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S., and what should be done next. 

People in Texas should feel confident in the state’s ability to respond to cases of infectious diseases, Kyle Janek, who leads the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told members of the Senate committee. He said he can’t promise, however, that there will be no missteps.

"We can automate a lot of things; we can make computers pop up certain notices and so forth, but at the end of the day, the backbone of this public health system relies on human beings," Janek said.

Lawmakers asked whether the U.S. should deny visa requests from people coming here from countries that have Ebola, but Janek said the best reaction is to carefully screen people coming from those countries at all U.S. points of entry.

Health officials told lawmakers one reason Texas is equipped to handle infectious diseases is because of a new state Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response. The task force will be releasing a report by December on issues like hospital preparedness and improved diagnostics.

Its director, Texas A&M’s Dr. Brett Giroir, said cultural competency is key, however.

"We’re dealing with a community where 30 different languages are spoken within that one small area, with different cultures and different views of the world," Giroir said, referring to the diverse Dallas neighborhood where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was staying when he fell ill. "We’re going to have to be extremely sensitive to how people view the health care system for this all to work."

Lawmakers also heard about the importance of educating the public on how Ebola spreads. It doesn't spread through the air, and a person is only contagious when he or she is exhibiting symptoms.

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