Preparing for Ebola in the Cowboy State


Know those “hazardous materials” suits that you see health workers wearing on TV?  Well, they are not comfortable and they are difficult to get on and off.

That is the conclusion by Steve Erixson, the administrator of the SageWest Hospitals in Lander and Riverton.

He and his staff at the two hospitals have been working on Ebola issues ever since people started becoming infected with the deadly disease in Texas and other parts of the country.  Other hospitals in Wyoming have been working on plans for Ebola too.

But back to Steve’s story:

He was working on a do-it-yourself foam insulation-spraying project in the crawl space at his house and donned a Tyvex suit that is used for protection when working with insulation.

When fully attired, he looked like a medical person in a hazard suit and he certainly felt like one.

Here is what he discovered.

“In 45 minutes, I was bathed in perspiration,” he recalls. “I could not wait to get that suit off.  It was so hot and stifling.”

Then he discovered just how difficult it was to get the suit off. It took awhile and he was trying to imagine how a health worker would deal with infectious substances while trying to remove such a suit.

All he had to worry about was some foam. What if it was the contagious Ebola virus that he was trying to avoid getting into his system?

Like hospitals all over the state, Lander and Riverton were also doing official drills and coming up with protocols for diseases such as Ebola.

Ebola is the contagious disease that has killed nearly 4,000 people in Africa and recently had been imported to the USA, killing one man in Texas.

Erixson believes no health worker could stand to work for more than two hours in one of these suits.  Just too confining. He has heard reports of health workers whose boots were filled with perspiration after a short time.

One of the biggest problems, as he discovered with his Tyvex suit, was how do you get the suit off safely?

It has been reported that some of the cases where health workers in Africa caught the disease (even after wearing protective suits) came from exposure while trying to get the suits off safely.

Erixson says one solution was to always have people work in pairs and with a “buddy system,” they can help each other remove the protective clothing without getting exposed.

Even small towns like Lander have people flying all over the world doing consulting or working in the energy field. I know several folks who work on an oil rig platform off the coast of Africa, 28 days on and 28 days off.

As far as how local hospitals would deal with an Ebola patient, unless it was a massive outbreak, Erixson feels certain the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta would send a plane out to Wyoming and transport the patient to one of their selected hospitals alleviating the problem.

At Sweetwater Memorial Hospital in Rock Springs, CEO Gerard Klein says, “Our first priority is the safety of our patients and our staff.”  He says they have been working with the Wyoming Department of Health on procedures.  “It has caused us to review and fine-tune our emergency response drills.”

“What we are focused on is the emergency room and our triage spaces, where patients will have first access to our hospital,” said Alicia Lynch of Casper’s Wyoming Medical Center in a news report.

Campbell County has many folks who travel the world in the energy business. Veronica Taylor, an infection prevention specialist at the hospital in Gillette says “the biggest thing with any disease like this is to just make sure you are prepared,” she was quoted in the local newspaper.

She has also been prepping her staff for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and an unusual virus that affects children called EV-D68. It is not just Ebola on their radar screens.

The Rawlins Daily Times quoted state epidemiologist Tracy Murphy: “There is a chance someone may contract the disease and get sick. But there is little risk to the general public.”

Health professionals in Wyoming are gearing up for all kinds of horrible diseases, including Ebola.

But one poster recently pointed out the flu kills more people than any exotic disease.  Time to get that flu shot, right?

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written five books. His most recent book is “MY WYOMING 101 Special Places,” which will out by Dec. 5.


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