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WMATA: Current Procedures 'Sufficient' for Countering Ebola

WMATA will not institute new protocols to address Ebola. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the wake of concerns about the Ebola virus in the U.S., leaders in the D.C. transit system met last week to review protocols for preventing the spread of infectious diseases on the metro system and determined current procedures were sufficient to counter the virus.  

Richard Sarles, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, sent an email to WMATA employees Monday, explaining that he met with "senior leaders in our Rail, Bus, Safety, MetroAccess and Police departments" to review the protocols.  

Sarles did not say that any new policies would be put in place to respond to Ebola, but instructed employees to continue to follow existing procedures to prevent infections.  

"We reviewed both standard operating procedures for routine cleaning, as well as more extensive responses to address health hazards throughout the system," Sarles wrote in the email, obtained by CQ Roll Call. "Given the fact that we are entering flu season, as well as rising concerns about the transmission of the Ebola virus, I want to remind all of us about the protocols we must follow." Sarles proceeded to review the protocols and attached a 17-page copy of the "Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan" from the 2013 WMATA safety plan.  

Among the procedures listed, employees are instructed to notify bus and rail operators at the discovery of any bodily fluids, to treat any blood or bodily fluids as if it is infectious and to wear gloves when administering first aid.  

Sarles wrote that transit vehicles are disinfected weekly from October to March to combat the flu virus. "The routine disinfection programs are underway again this year," Sarles wrote, "and will help to reduce viruses on contact surfaces."  

Dan Stessel, a WMATA spokesman, confirmed to CQ Roll Call Thursday that new policies were not going to be put in place amid concerns about the spread of Ebola.  

"It is basically a reinforcement of our existing policies, which were deemed to be sufficient given [Centers for Disease Control] guidance for handling any blood borne pathogen,” said Stessel.  

The decision to continue current policies — and not institute new protocols — stands in stark contrast to how another major transit system is addressing Ebola concerns.  

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced last week that the transit system would participate in “unannounced drills” and transit employees at risk of encountering the virus would receive protective equipment.  

But, as fear of the virus spread, D.C. health officials emphasized that while one or two cases may appear in the district, there will not be an outbreak.  

"We’re fighting right now two things: fear and Ebola,” Dr. Joxel Garcia, the district’s Deparment of Health director, said at a news conference  last week. “Fear is in the forefront.” He later added, “There’s not going to be any epidemic in the district while I’m here.”  

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