Dr. David Evelyn is "heavily involved" in preparing Cayuga Medical for Ebola. Photo courtesy of a hospital brochure.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Ithaca area leaders presented a clear message about the local preparation for the deadly Ebola virus at a press conference held on Tuesday.

“The risk for Ebola exposure is very unlikely in Tompkins County, but our community and our partner groups have been working together to prepare and coordinate our potential responses,” said Frank Kruppa, public health director of the Tompkins County Health Department.

“In the unlikely event that we have an Ebola case, Tompkins County is well prepared to respond appropriately.”

Related: How the Cayuga Medical Center is preparing for Ebola 

Here are 9 things we learned at the press conference, which was held jointly with officials from Cayuga Medical Center, the county health department and Cornell University:

1 — New info on isolation rooms at CMC

The hospital is required under new CDC guidelines to set up three rooms for their isolated units: the red room (where the patient resides);  the green room (where the staff puts on all the requisite equipment); and an intermediary yellow room.

The hospital’s isolation units in the ICU are already equipped to run this kind of operation; however, CMC has to adjust to these new guidelines for the isolation units in the emergency room.

2 — How many patients could CMC handle?

CMC staff said they have two rooms in the ICU that could accommodate patients and an additional two rooms in the ER.

“We also have some rooms like this on the floor but I don’t think it would be appropriate for these patients to be” there, CMC’s Dr. David Evelyn said.

3 — Dealing with an Ebola patient in a dorm

In response to a question, a Cornell official said that the university is prepared to act if a student in a dorm shows signs of the disease.

“Fortunately, this virus is not transmissible from people who do not have symptoms… so I think the dorm setting is a little less scary than it might be,” said Janet Corson-Rikert, executive director of Gannett Health Services.

“We have all kinds of coordinated programs already in place with our residential programming colleagues so we’re well prepared to intercede thoroughly.”

4 — How would Cornell handle speaking engagement?

Syracuse University recently came under fire for canceling the speaking engagement of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had been to Liberia.

How would Cornell respond to a similar event?

“It’s hard to respond to a hypothetical except to say that we would consult with our executive leadership team and make a decision based on all the factors,” said Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations.

5 — Effect of designation of 8 hospitals for Ebola treatment

New York state recently designated eight hospitals — including Syracuse’s Upstate University Hospital — to handle patients diagnosed with Ebola. The Cayuga Medical Center was not one of them.

That doesn’t mean the local hospital does not need to worry about how to treat a patient with Ebola symptoms, however, said CMC President and CEO John Rudd.

“We still need to continue to be prepared for individuals who come to our hospital,” Rudd said. “The change would be, ‘what’s the continuing care beyond that initial interaction?’”

6 — How would CMC work to treat the patient?

Dr. Evelyn noted in response to a question that the mortality rate for Ebola is quite high and that there is no cure.

“It’s really supportive treatment” that the hospital can provide, he said.

“These patients end up with fluid loss from diarrhea and vomiting,” and hospital staff would try to do things like controlling fevers “to help them make it through as best we could,” Evelyn said.

7 — People here are worried about Ebola, and some of that fear is misplaced

Sigrid Connors, the county’s director of patient services, said that the county gets “many calls from concerned individuals, and we ask them to have a deep breath so we can talk to them about what their concerns are.”

Like Connors, Corson-Rikert of Gannett said that “people are just so confused by the scary media messages that they don’t know whether they’re at risk if they get on an airplane or a bus.” (They’re not.)

“One of our challenges is how to put risk in perspective and to understand that their risk in Ithaca, NY, is quite limited,” she said.

8 — There can be appeals for Cornell’s travel ban

Cornell had previously said that no faculty, students or staff can travel to the areas with travel warnings in the highest level of risk.

However, Corson-Rikert said that there could be an appeal process in case there’s “any critical reason that someone needs to go.”

9 — How long will this work go on?

Dr. Kruppa said that local health officials will monitor the threat because it is an international problem.

“As long as the Ebola situation persists in West Africa the potential is going to exist” for it to spread domestically, he said.

He added that, “Everything we’re learning is not stuff we’re going to forget or put on a shelf … it’s vital for us …”

“Even if this turns out to be a training exercise, it’s still a worthwhile effort, and it’s all things we’ll incorporate into our plans going forward.”

Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.