Southwest Utah Public Health Department holds drill to prepare for possible influenza pandemic

ST. GEORGE — The Southwest Utah Public Health Department prepared for a nightmare scenario on Thursday morning as approximately 150 volunteers gathered to play the part of victims of a flu pandemic.

Volunteers gather for the pandemic exercise in St. George, Utah, Mar. 17, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Volunteers gather for the pandemic exercise in St. George, Utah, Mar. 17, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

The volunteers gathered at 8 a.m. for orientation and by 10 a.m. they began arriving at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George to have medical teams determine if they needed further care or would be sent home.

Nicholas Gordon, emergency preparedness specialist for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the event was planned over several years. The drill was meant to test the ability of Southern Utah health agencies to respond to an overwhelming flu epidemic.

Gordon said:

It’s lovingly referred to as a SPANDEX exercise, it’s a surge pandemic exercise. What we’re trying to do is create a mock scenario in which the five counties we’re in down here are being inundated, we’re six weeks into a flu pandemic, and we’re inundating the hospital, we’re sending additional calls to dispatch and to information lines, trying to help give a surge basically to the five counties, helping prepare them for in a pandemic, what would they do?

The pandemic exercise took place simultaneously at hospitals in Beaver, Garfield, Iron and Kane counties.

Red Cross volunteers were on hand for the influenza pandemic exercise that took place in St. George, Utah, Mar. 17, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Red Cross volunteers were on hand for the influenza pandemic exercise that took place in St. George, Utah, Mar. 17, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

Volunteer Warren Jederbeg was assisting in multiple roles for the exercise.

“I’m one of the volunteers that helps with the logistics here, get people signed in and makes sure they get their training and get queued up to go down to the hospital,” Jederberg said. “After we get done with that my wife and I will be a couple of the evaluators.”

St. George resident Diane Proffitt said curiosity drove her to volunteer for the exercise.

“I thought it would be interesting to see what the exercise would be all about,” Proffitt said.

The hospitals in the five counties were sent mock patients who told medical personnel what their symptoms were, Gordon said. As part of the scenario, the hospitals are considered to be maxed out with patients and the triage center staff are supposed to analyze the mock patient’s symptoms and decide whether they can be sent home or to a Community Information Support Center. During the exercise, the downtown St. George library was the sole support center.

Medical personnel assess volunteers of a mock flu pandemic at the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, Mar. 17, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Medical personnel assess volunteers of a mock flu pandemic at the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, Mar. 17, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

People often don’t understand just how dangerous and deadly the flu can be, he said, adding that the influenza virus is the single-deadliest communicable disease in the United States, killing anywhere from 20,000-40,000 people each year.

“Usually that’s the young and the old, the immune-compromised is how we refer to it, those with immune systems that aren’t as strong as the 20 to 40 year olds basically,” he said.

Should a pandemic ever occur, there would be concrete steps the government and its attendant health institutions would take.

“Some of the things that we’ve talked about when we were doing the training earlier today, we said, you know if this were a real emergency and we were six weeks in, what we’d be doing is probably instituting social distancing, we’d be doing education on how to try and keep people healthy. So obviously understanding what the disease is, how it spreads, that’s the education component.”

The social distancing aspect means that virtually all public events would be cancelled, Gordon said. This component is particularly important, he said, because people are contagious long before they show symptoms. By shutting down schools, social events and workplaces the spread of the virus would be limited.

In addition to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department and Dixie Regional Medical Center, the American Red Cross, St. George Fire Department and St. George Police Department participated in the drill.

Resources

Ed. note March 18: CLARIFICATION made to headline: Southwest Utah Public Health Department holds drill to prepare for possible influenza pandemic; original headline unintentionally led some to believe there was an existing pandemic.

Email: dgilman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

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