Students from Mammoth High School’s Health Science Pathway had the opportunity to participate in a bioterrorism exercise led by the health departments of both Inyo and Mono counties on Monday, Dec. 14.
The activity was part of an statewide medical exercise, which generally happens the week before Thanksgiving of each year, said Dr. Rick Johnson, Mono County Public Health Officer. This year’s exercise was built around the threat of an intentional airborne release of anthrax.
Students from The Health Science Pathway, headed by teacher Chris Leonard, played the role of members of the public. Dr. Johnson said that the students—all of whom are enrolled in the program as a voluntary elective due to their interest in the field of health—were told that drones, possibly carrying aerosolized anthrax, had been spotted over Mammoth High School and that they had to proceed to the nearest POD to receive treatment.
“The key is getting antibiotics to persons who are exposed before they get sick, known as post-exposure prophylaxis,” the Public Health Department said in a press release. “With early prophylaxis, it is estimated that 80 percent of people will survive.”
Dr. Johnson said that patients who have been exposed to anthrax and are not treated before they become symptomatic typically have a 50 percent survival rate, “even with quick recognition and early treatment.”
“A release of a relatively small amount over urban Southern California could kill as many people as the atom bomb did over Hiroshima in World War II,” the press release stated. Dr. Johnson said that in the event of an emergency of this magnitude in Southern California, both Inyo and Mono counties would be directly affected, even inundated, by people seeking a safe haven from a terrorist attack.
“At the same time there are going to be people getting sick and dying and our health care system and our EMS system are going to be stressed,” he said.
Leonard’s students tested the capacity of a POD in Mammoth by lining up at Suite Z in the Minaret Village to receive a course of “antibiotics,” as well as medicine to distribute to their households.
Julianna Olinka, a member of the Mammoth’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) said that having the students’ participation made the exercise more entertaining. “There were a couple kids who really stepped it up and they went whole hog with their scenarios,” she said. Leonard said that one of his students, Ian Ezell, was “the star of the show for acting,” and was subsequently recruited by Olinka for a community play.
Though there was fun to be had on Monday, Leonard said that the goal of such exercises is to prepare the public for events that may be fraught with panic, uncertainty and confusion. “It’s the terrible reality of the times we live in,” he said.
The shutting down of the entire Los Angeles School System on Tuesday, Dec. 15 due to a terror threat put the need for such exercises into sharp focus.
“God forbid we’ll ever have to do this,” said Dr. Johnson. “But hopefully we’ll be better prepared because we did.”