British Columbia | BC Coroners Service announces revised plans for inquests into mill-explosion deaths

The BC Coroners Service has announced revisions to its plans for inquests into the deaths of four workers who died in two sawmill explosions in 2012.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe announced last August that the deaths from the two explosions would all be examined in a single inquest to begin March 2, 2015, in Prince George.

On consideration of further information provided and presentations from the families, survivors, communities and inquest participants, two separate inquests will now be held:

  • One in Prince George to examine the circumstances of the deaths arising from the explosion at the Lakeland Mills Ltd. Sawmill.
  • One in Burns Lake to examine the circumstances of the deaths that occurred in the explosion at the Babine Forest Products sawmill.

Robert Luggi Jr., aged 45, and Carl Charlie, aged 42, were killed in the Burns Lake explosion on Jan. 20, 2012. Alan Little, aged 43, and Glenn Roche, aged 46, died as a result of the Lakeland Mills blast on April 23 of the same year.

Lapointe has noted that it is a long-held tenet of the BC Coroners Service to conduct its investigations and hold inquests to assure communities that the deaths of not one of their members will be concealed, overlooked or ignored. The Burns Lake community has argued eloquently that it has a powerful interest in hearing first-hand the information about the explosion that took place in their community. Lapointe has concluded that those community needs outweigh what advantages there might be in combining the two inquests.

The inquest into the Lakeland Mills deaths will proceed as scheduled at the Prince George courthouse on March 2, 2015.

The inquest into the Babine Forest Products mill deaths will begin on July 13, 2015, at the Island Gospel Fellowship Hall in Burns Lake. Presiding over that inquest will be Chico Newell, resource industry coroner for the BC Coroners Service.

Washington | King County and Seattle winter emergency shelter hours extended

King County Executive Dow Constantine thanked the Metropolitan King County Council for approving the funds needed to extend emergency shelter hours this winter at the King County Administration Building.

The funds will allow the shelter to open at 7 p.m. instead of 8:30 while still closing at 6 a.m. the following morning. The bill—sponsored by County Council member Joe McDermott—also formalizes the agreement with the City of Seattle to double the capacity of the overnight shelter.

“The winter months can be potentially life-threatening for the increasing number of homeless residents in our region,” said Executive Constantine. “Thanks to support from Council member McDermott and the City of Seattle, more people in our community will have shelter during the coldest months of the year. We will also continue to work with our community partners to help men, women, and children transition to safe, affordable housing.”

The expansion comes days after the annual One Night Count found that the number of homeless residents in King County had increased by 21 percent from the previous year.

“As demonstrated by last week’s One Night Count, homelessness continues to be a significant problem here in King County,” said Council member McDermott. “I am pleased that today the Council unanimously adopted my emergency ordinance to extend the hours of the King County Men’s Homeless Winter Shelter—allowing it to open an hour and a half earlier. I look forward to continuing to work with our regional partners, service providers, and homelessness advocates to address the underlying issues of homelessness and to keep homelessness rare, brief and one time.”

Mayor Ed Murray and the City of Seattle earlier this month announced they would provide $117,000 to double the capacity at the King County Administration Building—from 50 to 100—for the remainder of the winter. The legislation, approved by the County Council, allocates additional County funds of $53,000 to support the increased hours of operation through April 15.The shelters at King County Administration Building and Seattle City Hall will now open and close at the same time.

In December, Executive Constantine announced $6.4 million in grants that will help local seniors, veterans, young adults, and working families transition from homelessness to affordable housing.

Idaho | State reports significant increase in number of flu-related deaths

A dramatic increase in influenza-related deaths in Idaho is causing public health officials to urge Idaho residents to take measures to protect themselves from flu.

The state is reporting 16 flu-related deaths as of Jan. 22, an increase from just three reported deaths on Jan. 8. The majority of those deaths are for people over the age of 80.

“Over the past five years there has been an average of 20 influenza-related deaths reported per season. Since this flu season is likely far from over, people need to take measures to protect themselves to reduce their chances of illness,” says Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, Deputy State Epidemiologist.

The most common influenza virus subtype circulating this season is H3N2. In previous seasons when H3N2 was the most common circulating subtype, there were more severe illnesses and an increased numbers of deaths; this season also appears to be shaping up to be a severe one.

Because the flu can be particularly severe for children and those older than 65 years of age, public health officials are recommending that everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated should visit a drop-in clinic, pharmacy, or call their healthcare provider and schedule an appointment for vaccination as soon as possible.

“Although there is an incomplete match to the vaccine this season, the flu vaccine is still the best protection for you and your family,” Tengelsen says. “There is plenty of vaccine still available, so if you have not been vaccinated, please don’t wait any longer. And if you get the flu, rapid treatment with antiviral medications is an especially important second line of defense for people at risk for flu complications.”

In addition to vaccination against the flu, there are other things people can do to protect themselves and their family against serious respiratory illnesses like the flu, including:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Covering your coughs and sneezes.
  • Staying home when you are sick.
  • Avoiding others who appear to be sick.

Home care guidelines are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/homecare/

Severe symptoms of the flu that should prompt an immediate healthcare evaluation (either by your healthcare provider or at an emergency room or urgent care center) include:

  • Fever above 100° F
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach area
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration, not urinating enough or no tears when crying
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Being very sleepy or confused, or not waking up or interacting
  • Being so irritable that nothing makes the child feel better
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and more severe cough

For more information about influenza in Idaho, please see the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Influenza website at www.flu.idaho.gov or contact your local public health district.

Visit this website to learn more about the difference between the common cold and the flu: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has an Influenza website with information at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm

Arizona | Maricopa County confirms second case of measles

Maricopa County Department of Public Health has confirmed an adult woman as its second case of measles.

This individual had exposure to the family from Pinal County with confirmed cases of measles and travel history to Disneyland, as reported last week.

This newest case may have exposed individuals at the Phoenix Children’s East Valley Center between January 20 and 21, 2015.

“As you would expect, the minute Phoenix Children’s heard about a potential case of measles with exposure at one of their facilities, their team was immediately mobilized to identify and notify all who may have been exposed by this individual,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Maricopa County Public Health’s disease control division. As part of its response, Phoenix Children’s and Maricopa County Public Health are in the process of notifying the families of the 195 children who were at Phoenix Children’s East Valley Center on January 21 and 22.

Maricopa County Public Health recommends that all children who were exposed and have not had at least one dose of Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine be excluded from school/daycare for the 21 day incubation period (until Feb. 11 or Feb. 12 depending on the day of exposure) to avoid potential spread. Exposed adults who were born in 1957 or later and who have not had measles disease or at least one measles vaccine should not go to work or other public places for the same 21 day incubation period. If being in public cannot be avoided, it is advised that a mask be worn.

“I said we were not out of the woods and we aren’t,” said Dr. Bob England, director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “Measles is wildly infectious, which is why it is so important that we identify cases quickly and do our best to stop the spread early on. That means keeping unvaccinated people who have been exposed to the disease away from others.”

Measles is a vaccine-preventable viral illness that is the most contagious disease on earth. It can easily spread through the air by coughing and sneezing.  In fact, the measles virus can survive in the air for hours and may be transmitted even after an infected individual is no longer in the room/area.

“Getting your child’s vaccinations on the recommended schedule is the most important way parents can protect children from infectious diseases, like measles,” said Dr. Randy Christensen, medical staff president and director, ambulatory pediatrics, Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “The measles vaccine is safe and effective. If you have questions about vaccines, talk to your child’s pediatrician.”

You should be protected from measles if you were immunized by getting 2 doses of MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine, or if you have previously had the disease. Healthcare providers are required to report suspect cases of measles to Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Symptoms:

  • Typically appear 7-12 days after exposure to measles but may take up to 21 days
  • Begin with fever (101 F or higher), red, watery eyes, cough and runny nose
  • Followed by a rash that is red, raised, and blotchy. The rash begins on the face at the hairline and moves down the body. The rash may last for 5-6 days and may turn brownish.

What to do if you think you have measles:

  • If you have a healthcare provider, contact him/her by phone and let them know that you may have been exposed to measles. They will let you know when to visit their office so as not to expose others in the waiting area.
  • If you do not have a health care provider, you may need to be seen at your local hospital emergency room/urgent care center. Please call before going to let them know you may have measles.

For more information on measles’ signs and symptoms or where you may find vaccine, please visit www.WeArePublicHealth.org or www.StoptheSpreadAZ.com.

Arizona | Fifth measles case identified in Pinal County

The Pinal County Public Health Services District has confirmed a fifth case of measles in an adult male, who is now recovering. 

This individual was exposed to the family of four other cases identified last week residing in the Kearny area.

This new case raises the possibility that some Pinal County residents or others in the area may have been exposed to measles since the patient visited public locations while infectious.

This case was born after 1957 and reported only having one dose of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.  Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended in persons born after 1957.

Pinal County Public Health Services District has identified several public locations this patient visited while infectious.  If a person is unvaccinated or unsure of their vaccination status and visited any of the following businesses during these specific dates and timeframes, contact the Pinal County Public Health Department at 520-509-3555 or toll free at 1-888-431-1311.

On Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, this patient visited four public locations in Kearny:

  • Big D’s, 1113 Tillbury, Kearny — 5:30am-8:30am
  • Gordon’s IGA, 352 Alden Rd, Kearny– 3:00pm-8:00pm
  • Kearny Health Mart, 338 Alden Rd, Kearny — 4:30pm-7:00pm
  • Kearny Post Office, 388 Alden Rd, Kearny– 3:00pm-8:00pm

On Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, this patient visited two public locations in Kearny:

  • Cactus Mini-Mart, 352 Alden Rd, Kearny–5:30am-8:30am

“We have already contacted these places of business this patient visited.  These businesses are assisting the health department by placing signs at their entrances to inform customers and employees that they could have been exposed if they were in these locations during specific timeframes” said Public Health Acting Director Kore Redden.

The risk of developing infection after brief encounters with persons with measles is low, but as a precaution, people who were in the above locations at the times listed should:

Review their vaccination history. People who have not received the measles vaccine are at higher risk for developing measles after an exposure, so they should talk with a health care provider about receiving MMR vaccination.

Monitor themselves for illness with fever and unexplained rash until February 13, 2015 (the time period when symptoms may develop); if symptoms develop, they should stay at home and call a health care provider immediately. Explain that they have been exposed to a measles case and may be infectious with measles, and have their doctor notify the Public Health Department at 520-509-3555 or toll free at 1-888-431-1311.

You can only get measles once, so if they were sick with measles as a child, they are immune and are not at risk for developing measles again.

Measles begins with fever (101 degrees F or higher), red, watery eyes, cough and runny nose. This is followed by a red, raised, and blothcy rash. The rash begins on the head at the hairline and moves down the trunk to the lower extremities. The rash may last for 5-6 days and turn brownish. Symptoms typically appear 7-12 days after exposure to measles but may take up to 21 days. A person with measles is considered to be contagious 4 days before rash onset (generally one day prior to fever) through the fourth day after rash onset.

Two doses of MMR vaccine provide full protection against measles.  Those that have not been vaccinated or have just received 1 dose of MMR should obtain vaccination immediately (it takes about two weeks to build immunity).  For those that are unsure if they have previously received MMR vaccination, they should obtain at least 1 dose of MMR vaccine.  Residents should check with their healthcare providers or local pharmacy about the availability of MMR vaccine. The Pinal County Public Health Services District has MMR vaccine available for both children and adults.  For more information, please go to the following link at: http://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/publichealth/Pages/OfficeLocations.aspx or call 520-509-3555 or toll free at 1-888-431-1311.

Wisconsin | Major measles outbreak at Disneyland shows why vaccinations are so important

A recent outbreak of 70 measles cases traced to Disneyland shows that it’s a small world after all, and health officials are encouraging families to make sure they are current on all recommended vaccinations, especially before any spring break trips.

“One of the best ways to protect the health of our families is to get vaccinated against diseases that can do far more than ruin a family vacation, but can also cause serious illness and complications,” said Karen McKeown, State Health Officer. “By getting vaccinated, we are looking out for our children’s classmates, people we work with, our neighbors – our communities.”

The measles outbreak affected not only Disneyland visitors from several states, but also children and employees in nearby counties who were potentially exposed. The theme park is discouraging families who are not vaccinated from visiting. “This outbreak reminds us that vaccination is always important, whether families plan ‘staycations’ in Wisconsin or head to out-of-state destinations,” McKeown said.

Measles begins with cold-like symptoms, including a cough, runny nose, high temperature and red, watery eyes. By the second day after onset, a red, blotchy rash appears at the hairline and spreads to the arms and legs. Complications can include ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis and death.

To check on which immunizations you and your family need, visit the Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR).

Information on vaccine-preventable illnesses.

Michigan | Nearly 6,000 Fifth-graders enrolled in national emergency preparedness program – STEP

The Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHSD) today announced that teachers have enrolled nearly 6,000 Michigan fifth-graders in the Student Tools for Emergency Planning program. 

Known as STEP, this classroom curriculum enables teachers to prepare students for various emergencies, including tornadoes, flooding and storms.

“We are excited to have another record-breaking year for STEP program enrollment,” said Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, Deputy State Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “Our fifth-graders will be learning important and potentially life-saving lessons about emergency preparedness, making their families and communities better prepared for emergencies and disasters.”

The STEP program provides teachers with emergency preparedness materials at no cost to the school, including instructor guides, copies of student handouts and starter emergency supply kits for each student. The basic lesson includes one hour of instruction, but teachers have the option of expanding the lessons to include eight hours of material.

To date, 92 schools statewide are enrolled in the STEP program, reaching 5,968 students. Last year, 5,494 fifth-graders were enrolled at 88 schools.

Schools still have an opportunity to register students in the preparedness program, but applications must be received by mail, email or fax no later than Feb. 6, 2015. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/step.

STEP is sponsored by the MSP/EMHSD and Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

New York | Rockland County launches map app for Indian Point emergency planning

County Executive Ed Day today unveiled a cutting-edge, interactive mapping and information application designed to pinpoint a resident’s address in relation to the Indian Point nuclear power plants – with easy-to-use search functions.  Residents can access the application on a desktop computer or from any mobile device.

The app – accessible at RocklandIPReady.com – displays the ten-mile Indian Point Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ), which is divided into smaller sections called Protective Action Areas (PAAs). Residents can use the application as a proactive planning tool to identify the PAA in which they live, to review the suggested evacuation routes from specific PAAs, to determine which Public Reception Centers are available to them and to learn the locations of School Reception Centers. The site also provides information about the Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcast stations in the Rockland listening area.

“Providing residents with tools like this application enables families to better plan for an emergency,” said County Executive Day. “Residents can use the app as a stand-alone tool to prepare for an emergency at Indian Point, or in conjunction with the printed Are You Ready? guide recently mailed to addresses within the ten-mile Emergency Planning Zone. We encourage residents to utilize these user-friendly tools before an emergency happens.”

The application uses interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping with different layers of data that can be viewed together. Users can search by address, street intersection, tax map section/block/lot or by selecting a spot on the map. Mobile users can use their device’s Global Positioning System (GPS) feature to automatically determine their location. Once an address or location is determined to be within the 10-mile Indian Point EPZ, users can obtain emergency planning information specific to that address or location.

“We first launched an interactive Indian Point mapping application for Rockland residents in 2002,” said GIS Director Douglas Schuetz. “This updated version has expanded features and enables residents to access the information they need right from their mobile device, rather than having to use a desktop web application. We intend to redesign our other mapping applications based on this product, making them more user-friendly and accessible.”

The toolbar for the application enables users to manipulate the map by zooming in and out, panning, and even measuring the distance from their location to Indian Point. There is also a legend feature and an “identify” tool, which provides the names of features on the map, simply by clicking on them.

“Rockland residents have come to know that the sirens signal them to tune into an Emergency Alert System (EAS) radio or TV station for further information,” said Christopher Jensen, Program Coordinator for the Rockland County Office of Fire & Emergency Services. “This new app helps residents to determine where they are in relation to Indian Point and how best to respond.”

The “Indian Point Interactive Mapping” application was created by Wendel, Inc. of Buffalo, New York, in cooperation with the Rockland County Department of Planning and Office of Fire & Emergency Services. Costs for establishing the new tool were covered by emergency planning funds (non-County tax dollars).

Maryland | Anne Arundel County Exec declares heroin public health emergency

Surrounded by medical professionals, citizens, advocates, and the newly formed Heroin Action Taskforce, County Executive Steve Schuh today announced an executive order declaring a county-wide heroin public health emergency, directing county agencies to use “all best efforts” to eradicate the use of heroin in Anne Arundel County.
“While we will not win this war overnight, we must act now by taking steps to turn the tide of heroin abuse in our county,” said Schuh. “By declaring this county in the midst of a heroin public health emergency, our county departments can shift their resources to address this mounting crisis.”
Schuh also announced his intention to introduce, and testify on behalf of, a resolution in the Anne Arundel County Council addressing the heroin epidemic.
Schuh was joined at today’s event by his Heroin Action Taskforce, a group comprised of government officials whose recommendations will form the basis for the county’s Heroin Action Plan.  The group includes Police Chief Tim Altomare, County Health Officer Jinlene Chan, School Superintendent George Arlotto, States Attorney Wes Adams, Sheriff Ron Bateman, and Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides, each of whom spoke during the event.
“I’d like to thank all those who’ve given their time to join this effort, especially Mayor Pantelides,” said Schuh. “His commitment to working with us on this critical issue will ensure we can attack this problem at every level of government.”
Speaker of the House of Delegates Michael Busch also spoke during the event.
Two Anne Arundel County citizens, Ann Youngblood and Eileen Bolotin, also attended the announcement and described how the heroin epidemic has personally impacted their lives. Youngblood lost a son to an overdose. Bolotin is mother of three teenage girls, one of whom is battling heroin addiction.
Schuh was also joined by Victoria Bayless, president and CEO of Anne Arundel Medical Center, who hosted the event.
“We are supportive of the county’s urgent efforts to put policies in place to improve intervention and access to treatment,” says Bayless. “Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant in every area of this community—it’s a disease just like cancer or heart disease or diabetes. Children, men and women deserve the same compassion, support and care that patients with other diseases receive.”
The Taskforce’s Herion Action Plan, which will include recommendations for expanded treatment, education, and enforcement efforts, is currently being finalized and will be released in mid-February.

Maryland | Baltimore – Health Commissioner declares Code Blue Alert for extreme cold

With predicted low temperatures and wind chills for Tuesday and Wednesday in the teens, Leana Wen, M.D., Health Commissioner for Baltimore City, is declaring a Code Blue for January 27 & 28.

“The cold temperatures combined with the snow this week pose potentially life-threatening conditions for Baltimoreans,” Dr. Wen said. “We are particularly concerned about our most vulnerable residents, including the homeless, children, older adults, and people with chronic medical conditions.”

This is the second Code Blue alert for Baltimore this season, the first was for January 7 – 9.

The Health Commissioner may declare a Code Blue alert when temperatures, including wind chill, are expected to be 13˚F or below or when other conditions are deemed by the Health Commissioner to be severe enough to present a substantial threat to the life or health of vulnerable Baltimore citizens.

Code Blue indicates an increased risk for cold injuries or even death for those exposed to low temperatures. Once a Code Blue declaration is made, public messaging activities are undertaken to encourage safety when outdoors and response partners work to ensure those in need find sheltering.

During a Code Blue, the Mayor’s Office of Human Services will continue to operate a 24-hour Housing & Resource Center for men and women at 620 Fallsway with 60 additional spaces available for residents seeking meals and sleeping quarters. Private homeless shelters will be encouraged to extend their hours and keep people indoors. In addition, all of Baltimore City’s 13 senior centers will have free emergency meals available for clients.

Cold Weather Tips for Staying Healthy:

  • Wear multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing.
  • Always wear a head covering, like a hat and/or scarf, when outdoors.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Protect yourself against falls in icy or snowy conditions
  • Check on those who are children, the elderly and/or chronically ill.
  • Provide appropriate shelter for domestic animals.

Other Tips For Keeping Safe in Cold Weather:

  • Keep space heaters and candles away from flammable materials, such as curtains, furniture and loose clothing.
  • Check your carbon monoxide detector and make sure it’s working.
  • Do not use prohibited heat or power sources, such as stoves or generators. They may cause fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Do not leave your car running in a closed space such as a garage.

Residents are encouraged to contact 311 if a neighbor is without heat or power so that city agencies can assist them. Energy assistance may be available to those who need it. For more information, individuals may contact the Office of Home Energy Programs at 410-396-5555.

Additional cold-weather resources for the public including a listing of city and private shelters, is available on the Health Department’s website (http://health.baltimorecity.gov/). For other cold-related inquiries and service requests, or to find a nearby homeless shelter, residents can call 311 (410-396-3100 after hours).

“Extreme cold weather is just as dangerous as extreme hot weather,” said Dr. Wen. “We need to take extra care to protect ourselves and our loves ones, and also to look out for our neighbors and the most vulnerable among us. Keep warm and keep safe.”

Be well. Practice big medicine.