-Caveat Lector-


State prepares for bioterrorism
Executive orders give governor additional powers
By Jim Erickson, Rocky Mountain News
February 8, 2003

The state of Colorado could seize antibiotics, cremate disease-ridden corpses
and, under extreme circumstances, dig mass graves under executive orders
drafted for use in the event of a bioterrorism attack.

Eight of the executive orders have been drafted since mid-2001 by the
Governor's Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee.

The 19-member panel advises Gov. Bill Owens on measures to prevent or reduce
the spread of disease after a bioterrorism attack. It was formed in 2000 -
well before the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax scares - as part of a law that
laid out the Colorado governor's powers during emergencies.Owens hasn't signed
any of the draft executive orders yet, and there's a good chance they'll never
be needed, said Mark Estock, bioterrorism program coordinator at the state
health department."We hope and pray that these cataclysmic events never come,"
Estock said.

The nightmare scenarios include planes flying over a stadium and releasing an
aerosolized germ, such as smallpox or plague, that infects thousands of people.

"But should they come, we're going to be able to say to the citizens of Colorado,
'We're ready, and this is what we're going to do.' "Other states have requested
copies of Colorado's orders to use as models, Estock said.

"They contacted us because they've heard we have a good statute in place, so I
think it's fair to say that Colorado is looked to as a leader in bioterrorism
preparedness," said Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. The former executive director of the
state health department chaired the epidemic-response committee until she took
over as lieutenant governor in January. Most of the eight draft executive
orders would temporarily suspend various state regulatory statutes so emergency
workers and health officials can act quickly after a bioterrorism event.

One draft order empowers the state to commandeer pharmaceuticals from
drugstores and warehouses after an attack.

The federal government would immediately send in antibiotics and other
medicines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National
Pharmaceutical Stockpile, but until that shipment arrived, Colorado health
workers would be forced to rely on local supplies.

"If it was the crop-duster-over-Coors Field scenario, we might want to get the
stuff right into the hands of the people going out to work with those patients,"
Estock said.

Three of the orders suspend licensing and pharmacy laws to allow emergency
responders to dispense drugs and immunize victims.

Another would allow hospital emergency rooms to close their doors to
bioterrorism victims when they reach capacity. Currently, federal law requires
hospitals to evaluate every patient who shows up at their emergency rooms.
After a bioterrorism or chemical attack, field decontamination and triage areas
might be set up near ground zero.

Victims would processed, sorted, then sent to assigned hospitals.

"In the event of an emergency, we may have to triage patients so they don't
overwhelm the hospitals," Estock said.

Under another draft executive order, mental health patients could be removed
from treatment facilities so their beds could be used by bioterrorism victims.
Another order would suspend statutes pertaining to death certificates and
burial practices.

"The funeral codes say that a dead body is to be handled by a funeral home and
that you must notify the next of kin and give preference to the religious
practices of the next of kin," said Deputy Attorney General Renny Fagan, a
member of the governor's advisory committee.

"But in a biological event or in a mass-casualty event, it may not be practical
to follow that law," Fagan said.

Infected corpses might have to be isolated at temporary morgues to prevent the
spread of disease, Estock said. In certain situations, mass cremations or
burials might be required.

"I don't want to come across as saying the state's going to make this decision
to do mass cremations and ruin the lives of families. That's certainly not the
intent," Estock said. "But it (the executive order) just gives us maximum

A ninth executive order, pertaining to quarantines, is being prepared.

State and local health officials already have statutory authority to quarantine
people with contagious diseases.

The draft executive order would extend those powers so they could be applied
"on a broader basis than usually occurs in public health," Fagan said. Colorado
health officials will test their ability to respond to a bioterrorist event
this summer in a statewide exercise, Estock said.


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