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Isolation and Quarantine for Rural Communities Course Nears Certification

By the end of 2012, 41 states reported widespread influenza activity according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The instances and spread of the seasonal flu in 2012 and 2013 are significant and serve as reminders of the risk to public health of potentially more deadly infectious diseases. While a pandemic flu scenario warrants special planning and preparations, the use of containment measures to manage the spread of other diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) is commonplace. For example, more than 10,000 cases of TB are reported each year in the United States.

The use of isolation and quarantine as disease control measures is the topic of a new suite of courses developed by the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium (RDPC).  

With the advent of vaccinations and the complete eradication of some of the most troublesome and recurrent diseases throughout history (small pox, polio, among others), non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation and quarantine came to be viewed as archaic in developed nations. The twenty-first century, though, has introduced the public to new communicable disease types such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and H1N1 influenza (“swine flu”). The discovery of Ebola, the emergence of extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), and the potential threat of bioterrorism have pushed the need for isolation and quarantine preparedness back into the responder purview. Modern conditions have left many responders, especially in rural and remote communities, without the knowledge and training they need for activating or coordinating aid for isolation and quarantine response. 

Though the federal government retains authority to implement isolation and quarantine measures, especially at ports of entry such as airports,  much of the burden for implementing isolation and quarantine falls on the shoulders of local communities that operate under differing state and local laws and authorities, and operating procedures. Four RDPC courses aim to assist rural communities in planning for public health emergencies based on national-level guidelines and best practices. While all courses will offer common background modules and scenarios, separate courses will be developed for target audiences such as healthcare, public safety officials, and private sector entities.   

Private sector organizations often overlook planning where half their work force may be absent at any given time over a period of weeks or months. “This can put a strain on an organization’s ability to conduct day-to-day business, which can in turn put it at risk to failure through an inability to provide the goods and services their customers expect,” says Dan Charles, Curriculum Designer for NorthWest Arkansas Community College.

For example, the private sector course addresses unique aspects of planning for an infectious disease outbreak, including the:

  • Continuity of operations and the management of employees potentially cut-off from regular facilities even though the structures may be unaffected.
  • Lengthy duration of the emergency as compared to more common incident types such as tornados, floods, or winter storms (e.g., weeks or months rather than the hours and days).
  • Financial expenses accrued due to lost productivity.

Tailored for local business owners, pharmacies, local employers, local association members, and volunteer organizations, the objectives of the private sector course are to:

  • Provide private-sector organizations in small, rural, and remote communities with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to effectively plan for and respond to isolation and/or quarantine events of their populations. 
  • Identify gaps and areas for improvement in infectious disease planning in organizational continuity plans, policies, and procedures.
  • Involve private sector continuity managers in a structured exchange of information, ideas, solutions, and resolutions as they pertain to continuity issues during response to an infectious disease.

All courses in the suite include discussion-based exercises that require participants to evaluate the activities necessary to implement isolation and quarantine measures. Keep an eye on the RDPC website for offerings and open registration periods for courses in this suite (see http://ruraltraining.org/courses).

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