Feds conduct 'unprecedented' drill to assess preparedness for new Ebola-like outbreak

An interagency task force led by HHS and the U.S. Department of State conducted the largest overseas biocontainment exercise in history to test the nation's ability to transport Americans infected in an outbreak in a different country to the U.S.

The exercise — dubbed Tranquil Shift — was initiated on April 10 and involved the simulated use of Aeromedical BioContainment Systems, used to transport patients during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and the newer Containerized BioContainment Systems, which was developed in response to the Ebola outbreak and can move more patients at a time.

On April 11, five aircrafts departed Atlanta and traveled to Dakar, Senegal, and prepared for an evacuation of 11 simulated American patients from Sierra Leone on April 12.

After landing at Washington Dulles Airport and clearing customs, the simulated patients — who were all volunteers — were taken to one of five of the 10 hospitals in HHS' regional Ebola treatment center network: Bellevue Hospital in New York City, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Denver Health Medical Center, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

While the operation did encounter some expected issues in customs abroad and an electrical issue with one airplane, when it came to patient care and safety of operations, "there were no lessons learned; there were lessons reinforced," according to William Walters, MD, managing director for operational medicine of the Department of State.

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"The scope of this exercise is unprecedented and a testament to the lessons learned and the changes made in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak," said Dr. Walters.

"Tranquil Shift prepares us today for what we were largely unprepared for in 2014. This is not about Ebola. This is about the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, MERS-CoV, in Qatar, with outbreaks every month for the past several months; Lassa fever in Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso from February of this year; plague in Madagascar in December of last year. Infectious disease outbreaks happen all the time," added Dr. Walters.

The large-scale exercise from the Trump administration comes despite President Donald Trump's criticisms as a private citizen of President Barack Obama's move to evacuate 46 healthcare workers infected during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, bringing them back to the U.S. for treatment, according to ABC News.

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