ASHLAND -- Flu season is a yearly obstacle that plagues the winter months and can impact every individual in some capacity.
For that reason, the Ashland County Health Department took a proactive step Thursday morning with an exercise to ensure the Ashland community is prepared in the event of an unforeseen pandemic influenza outbreak.
Pandemic influenza is a new virus with a vaccine not yet available, therefore it differs from seasonal influenza. The most recent example of pandemic influenza was H1N1, also known as Swine Flu, in 2009.
Statistically, a pandemic influenza outbreak on average occurs twice every 100 years. Through stimulating conversation and mock scenarios, elected officials from the Ashland area role-played their subsequent actions in case that a threat-level virus such as pandemic influenza arose in the county.
The exercise was split into two modules, each illustrating a possible scenario in the future. Module one encompassed a situation where an individual infected with pandemic influenza resided in an Ohio county with the potential of causing local contagion.
Module two described a situation in which pandemic influenza resulted in numerous fatalities and had circulated internationally, including into the Ashland area.
A pandemic influenza threat is not dealt with as simply as one might think. A multitude of probable complications emerged during the discussion.
In the scenario that Ashland would encounter a disastrous pandemic influenza contamination, all key facets of the community would be affected.
It is exceptionally possible that a high percentage of employees deriving from every occupation wouldn’t show up for work due to personal infection or the accompanying family dilemmas that occur during calamitous circumstances. This includes the police force, medical officials from hospitals and nursing homes, teachers, city services as well as regional and statewide governing officials.
During a situation that involves a significant lack of employee attendance due to a viral outbreak, it's critical that businesses have a Continuity of Operation Plan (COOP) in place. Preparedness is a vital factor for a business’ survival and having a COOP in place may shield a company from crumbling during a dangerous pandemic influenza situation plight.
If the pandemic influenza outbreak is affecting neighboring counties and states as well, what source would a community rely on for supplies? Is there an emergency cache of bulk materials in the case of an unforeseen epidemic? What non pharmaceutical interventions need to be encouraged and/or monitored in the general public? Elected officials discussed these during the modules.
The most significant theme of the discussion was preparedness. The room full of Ashland representatives established a sense of confidence that the community is in good hands.
“I look around the table, and we have government agencies, nonprofit agencies and we certainly have for-profit agencies in the community, but the goal is that we all work together to do what’s right for the community, and I think the willingness is here today,” said Mark Rafeld, Director of Ashland County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
The Ashland County Health Department participates in some sort of county-scale exercise such as this one on a yearly basis. Utilizing concocted plans for potential community crises, the Ashland Health Department strives to minimize the negative outcomes of future epidemics.