Austin police order protective equipment in case of Ebola

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The Austin Police Department has ordered protective equipment and outlined a quarantine response in case of an Ebola outbreak in Austin, according to a training announcement sent to officers.

The announcement, which was sent out Oct. 6, outlines officers’ responsibilities at the scene of a quarantine and specifies how they can access personal protective equipment.

According to the announcement, the Travis County Health and Human Services Department or the Texas Department of State Health Services is responsible for declaring a quarantine in case of an Ebola outbreak. Both organizations can declare a quarantine of any person or area. Anyone who tries to enter or exit a quarantine area faces a third-degree felony charge, and an officer may use “reasonable force” to secure the area and prevent people from accessing or leaving it, the announcement said.

The announcement does not say whether officers are allowed inside the home of an Ebola patient, but Assistant Chief Brian Manley said they may be called to the scene in the event of a quarantine.  

Manley said if APD were called to enforce a quarantine order, officers would act in a supporting role to serve any notices and make sure the quarantine order was enforced. 

“APD is in a support role when we respond to a medical call with [the Austin Fire Department] or EMS, and it would be the same if responding to a possible Ebola case,” Manley said. 

On Friday, President William Powers Jr. announced in an email that a UT student had self-quarantined him or herself after being on the same flight as a nurse with Ebola. Powers said the student would be staying home from class at his or her private residence. According to the University, the student will not return to school until Nov. 3. 

Manley said APD works closely with other departments to determine how to respond to possible infectious disease outbreaks.

“We are in daily communication with the health department, EMS and fire department to coordinate our efforts and train our officers on response protocols,” Manley said. 

Officers typically carry latex gloves with them but would also wear standard equipment on the scene of a quarantine, including a face mask, gloves and protective eyewear, the announcement said. 

APD has ordered personal protective equipment for its personnel, but the announcement instructs officers to ask EMS staff for any equipment they do not have. The Austin Fire Department will also carry extra masks and eyewear on its units, and officers can call for additional protective equipment if necessary.

According to Manley, APD is still monitoring the situation and tracking the number of Ebola cases in the state.

“This situation is constantly evolving, and the information is being passed to our officers as it develops,” Manley said. “There are many potential situations, but we can only plan for what we know today. As new information develops we will respond accordingly.”