News of this year’s Ebola outbreak have led to steady, alarming headlines for the past couple of months, with the most recent Ebola news including the first case of the virus in the U.S. being treated in Dallas. Friday, October 10, the World Health Organization confirmed the pandemic’s death toll to have gone over 4,000. Partially in response to the first confirmed Ebola case in Dallas, Texas, as well as reports of a second case of Ebola among a health worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and the escalating level of concern globally regarding the virus, Governor Rick Perry announced yesterday that a special task force has been created to aggressively prepare for and address threats of pandemic diseases, such as Ebola, to the state of Texas.
Gov. Perry has appointed Dr. Brett P. Giroir to serve as the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response‘s director, in order to spearhead the initiatives of a group of internationally acclaimed experts in the fields of epidemiology and infectious diseases, one of which includes Dr. Peter Hotez, founding dean of the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine, chief of the new Section of Tropical Medicine in the BCM Department of Pediatrics, Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, and President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Shortly after the task force was announced, the Texas governor visited the Galveston National Laboratory at The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to personally learn about what their scientists are working on to address the outbreak. The Galveston lab is one of two National Biocontainment Laboratories in the US known to be cracking down on this deadly virus. Gov. Perry has also tasked the federal government to implement strict screening at all points of entry.
“Over the past several days we have learned a lot about the unique challenges of situations like this, and it’s important that we continue to adapt our response to these realities,” said Governor Perry. “This task force will develop a comprehensive, long-term plan to ensure Texas deals effectively with any potential outbreak, building on our existing State Emergency Plan and will cover all phases of preparedness and response.”
In a recent news release, Dr. Giroir explained that any disease outbreak from anywhere in the world is an immediate global threat, especially with the rise of globalization. The first and most effective line of defense is adequate preparation, prevention and organized containment, in addition to affecting long-term solutions. He believes the State is ready.
Joining the special task force are Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey, and the following esteemed specialists:
- Dr. Gerald Parker: vice president, Public Health Preparedness and Response, Texas A&M Health Science Center. Dr. Parker will serve as deputy director of the task force.
- Dr. Tammy Beckham: director, Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory and the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases, Texas A&M University
- Dr. Peter Hotez: founding dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine; professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology; President, Sabin Vaccine Institute
- Dr. Thomas Ksiazek: virologist and an expert in the field of Epidemiology/ecology and laboratory diagnosis of hemorrhagic fevers and arthropod-borne viral diseases, University of Texas Medical Branch Sealy Center for Vaccine Development
- Dr. James LeDuc, Ph.D.: director, Galveston National Laboratory; professor of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Program on Global Health, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity
- Dr. Scott Lillibridge: professor of epidemiology and assistant dean, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health
- Dr. Victoria Sutton: Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development; Director, Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy, Texas Tech University School of Law
- Richard Hyde: executive director, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
- Tim Irvine: executive director, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
- Nim Kidd: chief, Texas Division of Emergency Management
- Col. Steve McCraw: executive director, Texas Department of Public Safety
- Maj. Gen. John Nichols: Adjutant General of the State of Texas
- Lt. Gen. Joseph Weber: executive director, Texas Department of Transportation
- Michael Williams: commissioner, Texas Education Agency
The public can expect the first full report from the task force, inclusive of research findings and recommendations, on December 1, and a subsequent update next year, February 1, 2015.