“Ebola in Dallas”

The Dallas Morning News
October 02, 2014

 

2014 Silver Showcase Award Winner – Judges’ Comments: The Dallas Morning News’ Ebola coverage was remarkably comprehensive and innovative. The team attacked on all fronts, digging deep for scientific, regulatory and human angles. Break-through stories and critical information were accessible and understandable because of the use of state-of-the-art multimedia tools. The News set the standard for covering a story that had the entire world’s attention, and, just as importantly, provided balance and calm perspective when much of the national and global coverage became confusing and perhaps even hysterical.

Submission:

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America’s first outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus could have happened anywhere. It struck Dallas, Texas. And Dallas was not prepared.

“The federal warnings had been coming for months: Ebola, inevitably, would migrate from Africa to the U.S., and local health officials needed to be ready,” The Dallas Morning News’ wrote early in the crisis. “Then, when it finally happened, no one noticed.”

An emergency room doctor misdiagnosed Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian traveler with Ebola, and sent him home with antibiotics. It would be the first of a series of serious, potentially lethal missteps that marked the Ebola outbreak here.

As authorities raced to track his contacts, two Dallas nurses who had treated Duncan contracted the virus. Suddenly, what had been a frightening abstraction became an unprecedented local emergency. The city became ground zero for an outsized fear that seized the nation. After Duncan died of Ebola Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, its potential spread among his family, caregivers and others meant there was no clear end in sight. More than 100 people who had been in contact with victims faced daily testing, waiting over the course of three weeks to see whether they too might become ill. The state ordered some to stay clear of public areas. Schools closed, neighborhoods were barricaded, out-of-towners scrapped meetings in North Texas and panicky residents called for wholesale quarantines and travel bans.

At the outbreak’s source, The News rose to an unprecedented challenge, rooted in public service: serving as a reliable and thorough outlet of real-time information in a fast-moving, long-lasting, continually breaking news event. The News also was tenacious and unflinching in identifying failures–unprepared hospitals, slow-to-act health officials and missed chances to contain the virus. Those shortcomings included the hazards inherent in over-reliance on electronic records, poorly rehearsed emergency plans and the dangers posed by complacency. Among other highlights, The News:
· Identified errors at Presbyterian that were part of a larger problem in handling Ebola cases. After The News documented delays in testing Duncan for Ebola, the state health department established a Dallas-area site to allow more rapid, local testing.
· Discovered that the Dallas County health department’s protocols for screening patients still had holes that could let other Ebola patients slip through. State officials updated procedures for diagnosing Ebola just five days after The News reported on the faulty guidelines.
· Revealed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to protect medical workers were weaker than federal guidelines in place at least 15 years earlier. The CDC ordered tougher protocols and sent in “strike teams” after the Dallas outbreak.

The economics of the newspaper business have changed a great deal, but the classic role of trustworthy, comprehensive coverage has not. Our work documented that health officials and hospitals were badly prepared for Ebola, and they moved swiftly to make improvements. We’re proud to offer it your consideration.

LINK to story online

Submitted by Keith Campbell.