Chattanooga and Ebola

In response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, several Chattanooga area natives have mobilized to bring aid to affected countries and stop the further spread of the virus.     

Since the announcement that an American healthcare worker in Texas was diagnosed with Ebola hemorrhagic fever on Oct. 10, the American public has grown understandably concerned, and Chattanooga isn’t immune to some feelings of panic.

Healthcare workers, both local and across the country, are currently being educated in the protocols for quarantining and treating an infected person, including mandatory drills to prepare staff for an emergency. Local lawmakers have also responded to the news, with several congressmen from nearby districts in both Tennessee and Georgia stating that they are in favor of a travel ban for countries currently experiencing widespread transmission of the disease.

On March 25, the Ministry of Health of Guinea announced an outbreak of Ebola in four Southeastern districts of the West African country. Since then, over ten thousand cases of the disease have been identified in eight different countries. Three of these countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—have experienced widespread transmission of the disease. So far, nearly five thousand people have died from Ebola.

Clay Wardlaw is the President and Chief Operating Officer of SafetyPlus, LLC, a family-owned company based here in Chattanooga which specializes in biological decontamination and monitoring. SafetyPlus currently holds the contract to decontaminate the airplanes that bring Ebola-infected patients to the United States for treatment. They were recommended for the contract by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a result of the company’s strict decontamination protocols.

The company’s Biological Emergency Response Team uses new hydrogen peroxide vapor technology to disinfect areas exposed to the virus. According to Wardlaw, this is a proven process, and one which an “extremely high” virus kill rate. “If we follow the process,” Wardlaw said in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “we will be safe.”

Other Chattanooga natives are working overseas to aid people currently suffering from the disease. Early this month, Alexis Decosimo founded Playing to Live! as a way to serve the emotional health of children affected by Ebola. According to the description on the project’s website, Playing to Live! “uses art and play to therapeutically enhance the quality of life for the children in Ebola clinics and quarantine centers in Liberia.”

Decosimo is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she earned her master’s degree in art therapy and clinical counseling. Her passion is to help “children heal through creativity.” Since the outbreak, she and the rest of the Playing to Live! team have created an educational curriculum for staff and volunteers focusing on addressing these elements of the children’s care. They have also assembled “comfort kits” filled with art and craft supplies for each child served by the program.

Volunteers from the program are currently working at an Interim Care Center in Monrovia, Liberia. The ICC is an isolation center for children – many of them orphans – who are suspected of having the disease. It houses twenty children at a time for the course of their mandatory twenty-one day quarantine period. Playing to Live! is there to provide the children with “a way to just be a child again even when facing this real world terror.”

Tennessee Hospital Association President Craig Becker urges that people “not succumb to the fear of the unknown.” Chattanooga natives Alexis Decosimo and Clay Wardlaw are leading the charge in that by using their various skills, talents, and companies to aid in the fight against Ebola.