Collin County MRC Conducts Contact Tracing and Monitoring for Ebola

Submitted By

Rebecca Drekmann
Collin County Medical Reserve Corps, Texas
December 2, 2014

When the first case of Ebola emerged in Dallas on September 20, Collin County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) knew they would have to be ready to respond. Collin County is a veteran community 23 miles north of Dallas with a large population that regularly commutes into the metro area, and someone would have likely been in contact with a person with a possible Ebola case.

Thus, Collin County MRC Coordinator Rebecca Drekmann reached out to the local health department, Collin County Health Care Services, to see how the MRC could assist with the response. Since the Collin County MRC is housed within the Collin County Homeland Security department, Collin County MRC does not have a formal relationship with their local health department. However, Collin County Health Care Services was happy for the additional help since they only have three epidemiologists on staff and knew they would be quickly overrun with the Ebola response. MRC volunteers were identified to assist with potential Ebola case tracking, and on October 2, the health department conducted a just in time training with 83 Collin County MRC volunteers in attendance.

The MRC volunteers were not officially activated until October 17 when their help was requested to run a call center to track 40 contacts on the airline with nurse Amber Vinson who had contracted Ebola. The majority of these contacts were children on a field trip, so there was only one contact for all 40 children, a teacher, making it difficult to get in touch with each child’s parents. Thirty-two volunteers made calls to find the parents’ contact information and finally reached all of them after three days.

On October 22, Collin County MRC volunteers were requested to shift their focus from contact tracing to start monitoring the contacts of Thomas Duncan and the first infected nurse, Nina Pham. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance recommended home visits for contact monitoring, but given the high-risk nature of these cases, MRC volunteers used smartphones to conduct active monitoring. They used video calling capabilities on Skype and Tango to observe individuals taking their temperatures and to notice any Ebola symptoms; individuals also submitted photos of the temperature on their thermometers for record keeping. In instances where the individuals did not have the FDA-approved thermometers recommended by CDC, MRC volunteers delivered these thermometers to them. MRC volunteers continued to assist with monitoring through the end of the tracking period on November 7.

Overall, Collin County MRC volunteers donated 847 volunteer hours in the response to Ebola in Dallas. Several lessons learned emerged during their response, including the importance of conducting trainings earlier when the threat emerged rather than when it was already present in Dallas. Additionally, Collin County MRC found it necessary to have a backup in place for the MRC Coordinator, and has now identified a volunteer co-coordinator who has access to necessary items for the next public health emergency.

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