While the chances of contracting the Ebola virus remain minimal for most Americans, the College of William and Mary has adopted a series of preventative and reactionary measures regarding the infectious disease.
In July 2013, the school’s Emergency Management Team adopted a plan for infectious disease control procedures. The 14-member team — chaired by Vice President for Administration Anna B. Martin and staffed with individuals from an array of offices — holds responsibility for the College’s emergency preparedness. The adopted Infectious Disease Plan outlines the “framework for the University’s response to infectious diseases that present a threat to members of the campus community.”
While primarily concerned with the actions of on-campus offices and facilities, the plan lists local, state, federal and international organizations as support agencies. Most, like Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, Riverside Doctors Hospitals and state departments, stand to serve as response-oriented facilities. Others, such as the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, function as threat-monitoring services.
Taken comprehensively, the Infectious Disease Plan aims to guide the College’s “mitigation effort and response to disease outbreaks impacting students and employees on campus, en route to campus and abroad engaged in university-affiliated travel.” The plan emphasizes monitoring, health communications and protective measures in dealing with a variety of infectious diseases, including Ebola.
Student Health Services, the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies and William and Mary Police Department hold responsibility for monitoring information sources and determining if further action should be taken to protect those on campus. The Director of Student Health determines the necessity of informing the campus community of health-related threats. Finally, the administration assumes responsibility for any needed protective measures. Such measures range from awareness campaigns to “travel restrictions concerning acutely-affected locations” and “interventions including iterative symptom monitoring and quarantine.”
Nick Vasquez, the William and Mary International Travel and Security Manager, is involved in disease monitoring efforts regarding the Ebola virus. Vasquez has been the point of contact for student and faculty international travel since summer.
“Currently, my tasking is to watch for all international travel to the region and get the word out to campus deans, faculty and staff that there is a process you must go through to travel to high risk countries,” Vasquez said in an email. “We encourage travel to all parts of the world, [but] we do want to make people aware of the risks and, mostly, the overall health and safety is of utmost importance to us.”
Those wishing to travel to such high-risk countries must contact Vasquez. From there, Vasquez aims to prepare the traveler with as much knowledge of the destination as possible.
“I always try and give them a 360 view of the situation on the ground,” Vasquez said. “With my background in the federal government, I was fortunate to keep a pool of contacts and resources all over the world. When I would like to know more about a region or country, I reach out to someone that is currently in the country. The State Department also has a team of analysts that are experts in regional affairs. I reach out to them as well for country analysis.”
In the wake of the spreading threat of Ebola, the College implemented additional measures Nov. 11. Specifically, students traveling to CDC Level 3 countries now need prior approval from the Travel Warning Review Committee under the proposed Policy on Travel to CDC Warning Countries. Currently, the CDC lists Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea as Level 3 countries. Nigeria has declared a national state of emergency in response to the Ebola virus, but holds Level 2 CDC status.
The TWRC includes the Vice Provost for International Affairs, the Director of Global Education, the University Chief Compliance Officer and Vasquez. While the proposal has yet to be approved, the administration agreed to implement the policy during the interim period.
According to Vasquez, who chairs the TWRC, no faculty, staff or students have reported non-school sponsored travel to CDC Level 3 countries. Vasquez did note some students who had traveled to the region surrounding Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but none to the CDC Level 3 and Ebola-ridden countries.
Students wishing to petition for approval to travel to CDC Level 3 countries are instructed to contact Vasquez.
“Once the 30-day review period is over, we will have a link on the Reves website to petition,” Vasquez said regarding the proposed Policy on Travel to CDC Warning Countries. “It will be the same way one petitions for the State Department travel warning.”
Locally, area hospitals have equipped themselves to deal with Ebola-related illness. Both Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center and Riverside Doctors Hospital announced additional training, revamped spaces and the implementation of new practices to respond to the Ebola virus.
“Recent experience around the country points to concentration of resources and expertise as an emerging best practice,” Scott Miller, who chairs the Sentara Ebola Task Force, said in a statement. “These two hospitals have the right kind of facilities that we can readily adapt for this purpose.”
On campus, multiple discussions regarding the Ebola virus have taken place. A Nov. 5 discussion, hosted by United Against Inequities in Disease, included Professors Camilla Buchanan, Alison Scott, Leah Shaw and Admasu Shiferaw. Most recently, the William and Mary Alumni Association hosted Patrick Flaherty ’92 and Captain Thomas Forrest, USN ’00 for an hour-long discussion on the Ebola Virus in the Commonwealth Room Monday. Flaherty currently serves as public health advisor and deputy director of HIV/STD prevention research, Thailand, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Forrest is the director of strategy, policy, programs and resources at the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC), Department of Defense.
With the Infectious Disease Plan, proposed Policy on Travel to CDC Warning Countries, and campus-affiliated discussions on the Ebola virus, UAID president Molly Teague ’15 expressed hope that the stigma attached to the virus will dissipate.
“The main thing we focus on is that even though the United States is a lot less involved, it is not any less responsible,” Teague said. “Since it affects the world, it affects us.”