Monday, April 15, 2024

Our plans for outbreaks plus more breaking news

Care on the home front

If you wonder whether the many parts of this area’s health care network are working on a response for any real or suspected cases of Ebola, the answer is that they don’t really have to. The plan has been in place for years.

In 2001, about three weeks after 9/11, a Palm Beach County man who worked in Boca Raton was diagnosed as having been exposed to anthrax. His death from that exposure would be one of six nationwide. Who sent the anthrax through the mail—to a U.S. Senate office building, among other places—never has been confirmed to anyone’s satisfaction outside the federal government.

In part because of the deficiencies the response to that anthrax case revealed about the system of emergency health care, then-Palm Beach County Health Director Jean Malecki tried to improve coordination among hospitals, public health clinics and any other facilities that might deal with patients who presented a serious risk to the public.

There is no large, public hospital in the county, as there is in Broward and Miami-Dade. So the health department was the logical agency to bring everyone together into what is called the Health Emergency Response Coalition, or HERC. It includes hospitals, health clinics, the school district—lots of nurses there—the health care district and other agencies.

Fortunately, the protocols for dealing with possible Ebola cases are the same as for dealing with any communicable disease or radiation exposure. An official with Boca Raton Regional Hospital confirms that those protocols are always in place. A radio system that links all coalition members allows epidemiologists at the health department to hear, for example, about an unusually high rate of absenteeism among public school students. Drills are held regularly; a Health Department spokesman says the next will take place in “about two months.”

With nursing schools at Florida Atlantic University and Palm Beach State College, the Ebola outbreak also has presented—pardon the phrase— a teaching moment. Dr. Marlaine Smith, dean of the Christine Lynn College of Nursing at FAU, says, “Many aspects of how you respond” to an Ebola case “are within the curriculum,” but that FAU has used the outbreak to drive home certain points.

in discussing “population health,” faculty members compare the Ebola response to what happened with HIV, says Dr. Karethy Edwards, the nursing school’s associate dean. Like Ebola, HIV is spread by contact with bodily fluids. Nursing students learn how countries contained the Ebola outbreak of 1976, and why Ebola originates in Africa: it began in animals that live there.

Ebola also has become part of the ethics classes. “What do you do,” Smith asks, “if you are asked to care for someone with Ebola?” She recalls that there were two nurses who were reluctant to care for AIDS patients. The high-profile nature of the outbreak helps show the importance of asking questions after someone complains of certain symptoms. With Ebola, of course, the operative question is: Have you traveled recently to Africa?

Today, Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso will give the county commission an “update” on the Ebola virus. A spokesman says the report will consist mainly of discussions with agency “partners” such as the Border Patrol, Palm Beach International Airport and the Port of Palm Beach, as well as the hospitals.

We’ve come a long way since the then-secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Palm Beach County’s anthrax victim might have been exposed by drinking contaminated water from a stream. Given public concern, there may be false reports of Ebola cases in Palm Beach County, like the one last weekend in Miami-Dade. Whatever happens here before the outbreak is contained, the response that began 13 years ago should reassure the public.

Building rules in Delray

Tonight, the Delray Beach City Commission can head off any attempts to slip bad building plans past new rules for downtown development.

For nearly a year, Delray has tried to streamline, simplify and update regulations for what the city calls the Central Business District. The proposals, crafted with the help of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, went before the Planning and Zoning Board for review Monday night. They could go to the city commission for final approval as early as next month.

The regulations cover the big issues—no building taller than 54 feet, exceptions allowed for church spires. They cover the small issues—the type of tree to be planted and how far apart. The goal is to preserve and enhance what has drawn so many people—and so much development—to Delray Beach.

Some builders, though, might not like the new rules. Rather than change their plans, they might try to rush those plans through, so they could be under the current regulations. City Attorney Noel Pfeffer is asking the commission if it wants to invoke “zoning in progress,” which would mean that any plans submitted after Tuesday would be subject to the new regulations.

“The idea is to avoid a flood of half-baked applications,” said Mayor Carey Glickstein, “where someone submits two pages and calls it a plan, just to beat the deadline.” Glickstein notes that no applicant credibly could claim to be ignorant of the proposed changes, saying that the regional planning council has held 15 public hearings and that the commission has had six.

Approving the zoning in progress would give the commission up to six months to adopt the new regulations. If that isn’t enough time, the commission could extend the zoning in progress. This is an easy call. Why would Delray Beach risk losing a year’s worth of work?

King Tide

Delray Beach’s Rising Seas Task Force will hold a “King Tide Educational Event” from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday at Marina Way and Southeast First Street. The speaker will be Ana Puszkin-Chevlin. She has a doctorate from Columbia University in urban planning with a concentration in environmental policy for coastal lands. As noted in the first item about Ebola, responding to warnings is a good idea. When it comes to rising seas, Southeast Florida has heard plenty of them.

Ag reserve update

Last week, I wrote about the county commission’s push to change development rules for the Agricultural Reserve Area. On today’s commission agenda is a potentially significant decision regarding the reserve.

A company called Rowan Construction owns 20 acres in the northwest section of the reserve, which is roughly between Florida’s Turnpike and State Road 7, north of Clint Moore Road and south of Lantana Road. Rowan would donate the land to the county, which would use it and 100 surrounding acres for environmental restoration.

GL Homes, the largest builder in the Agricultural Reserve, would pay Rowan $1.6 million for development rights on those 20 acres—20 homes. GL Homes then would be able to add 20 homes to another site in the reserve, and thus exceed building limits for that site.

It’s called transfer of development rights, and even commissioners—like Steven Abrams—who say they are open to minor changes in development rules for the reserve have said they oppose transferring such rights. The staff recommends approval. The vote on this small piece of land could be a sign of what will happen to all 21,000 acres in the reserve and how much the commission respects the public’s decision to stress farming, not development.

Weather notes

It didn’t last, of course. It was just a tease, like the first warm day of spring those of us who grew up in the Northeast and Midwest remember.

But wasn’t it wonderful to wake up Sunday and Monday mornings to at least an appetizer of cooler weather? Everyone’s heart rate dropped a little. You could open windows for a while.

Monday morning, even as another week of Ebola and ISIS and the awful choice for governor rolled around, you could feel the air, look at that sky and remember again why we live here.

••••••••

You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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