Sheriff’s lieutenant traveled to Liberia to help with Ebola outbreak

EVERETT — They started with rubber gloves: how to put them on, how to take them off.

Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Parker, 47, was part of a four-member team of Americans who went to Liberia in October to help with the Ebola outbreak. The team trained nearly a third of the Liberian National Police force on basic protection measures, public education and community policing related to the disease.

“The training by all appearances was the first time those police officers had been given any direct, one-on-one information about Ebola,” Parker said. “They were engaged. They asked questions.”

Parker has been with the sheriff’s office 24 years this Sunday. He also works as an instructor for the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at Louisiana State University. The Liberia trip through the LSU program was funded by a federal grant.

Parker served in the U.S. Marine Corps, but he’d never been to Africa. Liberia still is recovering from civil war in the early 2000s, he said.

For the three-week stay, a police escort accompanied the team around the country’s capital, Monrovia. Each grocery store, hospital and other public places had a bleach-and-water handwashing station out front. Many places required visitors to step into saturated sanitizing foam, shoes and all, before coming inside. Workers at his hotel had their temperatures taken before each shift.

Many of the country’s police officers didn’t have weapons. They wore tags on their clothing showing their temperatures from that morning.

At the country’s police headquarters, the team was told there might not be enough gas to run the generator for a slideshow, Parker said.

When the Liberian officers struggled to put on rubber gloves, the team realized it was time for the trainers to step back and slow down, Parker said.

He knew his work could have global implications. In Liberia, Ebola patients and survivors faced exile and even violence in their communities because of misinformation and fear, he said.

The hospitals in Liberia had rusted gates, peeling paint and corrugated roofing. He remembers being warned as he walked into an Ebola treatment unit.

The message was: “Beyond this gate are people with Ebola.”

He thought to himself: “Here we are. We’re going through the gate.”

A doctor came out wearing Crocs-style sandals, Parker said. Hospital staff ate their meals inside the walls.

Still, they were knowledgable and receptive, Parker said. Knowing he was with experts eased his apprehension.

The doctor “truly wanted to help his country and the people who have come down with Ebola,” Parker said.

Parker made sure that his bosses at the sheriff’s office and public health officials knew he’d been to Africa. He also notified his kids’ school and the parents for the soccer team he coaches.

“I kept zero secrets about it,” he said.

He was asked to take his temperature at least twice a day to make sure he wasn’t getting a fever, an early symptom of Ebola. He also was asked not to use public transportation or get on an airplane.

Some in his life were wary when he got back. Others made a point of going for a hug or a handshake, though he avoided those for a while. He wanted to be respectful but also safe.

Parker went to Liberia to help others, but he brought back lessons, too, particularly for organizing a large-scale response to a biological emergency. Boxes of protective masks, gowns and gloves are now stacked in his office, waiting for distribution to the sheriff’s precincts.

Sierra Leone’s government declined a visit from the team, he said. He isn’t going along but the folks he worked with are heading to Guinea this week.

The mission is the same: saving lives.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Ebola

The Snohomish Health District has information about Ebola, including local prevention plans, available online at www.snohd.org/Diseases-Risks/Ebola-Virus-Disease.

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