Nick Bailey, the director of Hopkins County Emergency Management Agency, said the agency is acting as a support arm of the response to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
EMA typically responds to natural disasters or other major emergencies. With the COVID-19 pandemic as a medical emergency, the Hopkins County Health Department is leading the county’s fight against the disease. Denise Beach is the director of the HCHD.
All firefighters and law enforcement personnel have personal protective equipment, Bailey said. They’ve been issued N-95 masks and some departments also have surgical masks. N-95 masks are “tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95% of particles in the air” and “reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles, from small particle aerosols to large droplets,” according to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re used to using it,” said Hopkins County Sheriff Matt Sanderson. Now, the department is using the equipment much more often.
The sheriff’s department is using rubber gloves and N-95 face masks as a measure to protect themselves and the people they come in contact with. The office is closed to in-person traffic, but is sterilized every day. Nonemergency calls may be handled over the telephone, he added.
“As law enforcement, we have to stay healthy,” Sanderson said. “(If not) then we aren’t able to provide services.”
Commercial vendors of masks have such a backlog that it is hard to get the items ordered. Bailey said the agency’s ties to a regional health care group has given it access to a stockpile likely left over from the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.
“We’re at the mercy of these caches,” Bailey said.
The Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services issued directives for those responding to emergency medical calls.
Bailey said when a Hopkins County resident calls 911, it rings to Hopkins County Central Dispatch. When the dispatcher determines that they call is medical-related, they transfer the call to Medical Center Ambulance Service, whose dispatcher will ask COVID-19 screening questions.
The questions are: Do you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing? Does anyone at your home have these symptoms? Have you had close contact with someone who has had the Coronavirus?
If the answer is no to all the questions, an ambulance is dispatched as usual. If the answer is yes, the dispatcher will relay the information to the ambulance staff, who can then prepare themselves with personal protective equipment.
The staff has a cleaning process in place after transporting someone under investigation of or confirmed to have COVID-19.
The Madisonville Fire Department has similar measures.
Employees on medical runs will use masks and gloves and cleaning procedures on scene, and upon return to the fire station, will shower and wash their clothes. Chief John Dunning said each person will have several changes of clothing. Bed linens and surfaces will be cleaned each shift.
“We want the public to know that we are still working 24 hours (a day), 7 days a week and are ready to respond in a moments’ notice,” Dunning said. “... This virus can and will be beat.”
Bailey said the best advice he can give to the public is to fact check the information seen on social media and gather information from credible news sources. Gov. Andy Beshear, the CDC and the World Health Organization are also great places for information.
“Rumors are out there. Running rampant,” Bailey said.
Sanderson said citizens should make sure their information is factual. They are welcome to call the sheriff’s department to dispel any rumors circulating.
“We’re here for them,” he said. “We’re their front line.”
Fear is one of the biggest enemies we’re fighting, Sanderson said. Many people are concerned about getting ill, losing income, having enough food to provide for their families. He encourages people to get out of the house some. You can go fishing, go on a hike or a walk.
“Stress levels are high,” Sanderson said. He is particularly concerned about the rise of domestic violence, child abuse and suicide while people are confined to their homes. He suggested citizens when they feel agitated to go outside, get fresh air, call a friend. And if you are feeling suicidal, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
Citizens should also know that food supply chain is strong and to be mindful of community members, he added.