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AURELIUS — More than 50 local volunteers participated in an emergency response simulation on Thursday to help Cayuga County's Health Department prepare for an emergency. 

A full-scale clinic exercise took place at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, one of many staged throughout the state, in response to a state-issued biological-threat scenario: A hepatitis A outbreak in a food worker. 

The state Department of Health provided the same scenario for each county to host a full scale functional clinic as if responding to a real outbreak, Health Department Director and clinic incident commander Kathleen Cuddy explained.

The scenario counties had to respond to included a 24-year-old male employee at the county's largest grocery store being diagnosed with a confirmed case of acute hepatitis A. The local health department was notified, and post-exposure prophylaxis was recommended for any customer that consumed produce from that grocery store within about 10 days prior to the employee's diagnosis. The county health department was told to be prepared to offer hep. A vaccine and immune globulin during the simulation to the estimated 20 percent of the county's population exposed to the virus. 

Cuddy said setting up a point of distribution clinic like this is helpful because it allows the county to test their ability to execute incident command by bringing multiple people and resources together for a cohesive disaster or outbreak response. 

A POD like this allows the health department to work with their partners like BOCES, the Cayuga County Emergency Management Office, and the Sheriffs' Department, Cuddy said. She added that many "staff aren't in (their) traditional roles," and people have to adapt to the assignment given when they arrive to the simulation. 

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Volunteers from the community who participated allowed for hospital staff, nurses, physicians, and other staff to experience the protocol of an emergency response. Volunteers queued in line and went through the same process persons would if reporting to a POD for a true emergency response — clients were registered, came forward as nurses were available, medical reviews were done with on-site physicians to determine the doses necessary for each individual's immune globulin administration, and then they would sit to rest and fill out an evaluation following their pretend post-exposure prophylaxis treatment. 

Clinical staff in green vests would hold up green cards at their stations to notify the next person in line that they were ready. The nurses would then interact with each volunteer as if they were really administering vaccines and immune globulin — gloves were changed, arms were swabbed with alcohol wipes, and doses were determined. No real or placebo treatment was administered, however. 

Additional staff in color-coded vests filled the POD, including the POD site managers in purple vests, yellow vest-wearers were helping with traffic control of people, and those in tan vests were observing the response team. 

Observers included other public health professionals or partners who would later give feedback to Cayuga County's Health Department on what areas they did well in, as well as areas in which to improve. Immediately after the event there is a time for initial feedback from staff and observers, but more formal evaluations are also completed.

"Years ago I would find this a humongous task to take on," Cuddy said, but she added that staff have learned a lot and have grown to be able to take the reigns. This is an annual exercise given by the state, but Cuddy said that only about 50 percent of the time is it a full-scale clinic exercise like today.

"I can tell you we're definitely getting a lot of learning from this," Cuddy said. 

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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