At a national level, there are shortages of personal protective equipment, which shields first responders and healthcare workers as they work to curb the spread of COVID-19.
But in Oregon, chief Glenn Linzmeier told the Observer on Thursday, April 2, he feels comfortable with the amount of PPE the Oregon Area Fire and EMS district has.
That includes gowns, surgical masks, non-latex gloves and protective suites, mostly the result of a recent shipment from the state. But, he said, that comfort level is dependent on the amount of calls they get and how long the pandemic lasts.
“You don’t know what the volume is going to be — is it six weeks, is it eight weeks that we are going to be in the highest exposure? None of us know,” Linzmeier said.
On March 3, eight days before declaring COVID-19, an illness caused by coronavirus, a pandemic, the World Health Organization put out a statement urging manufacturers to increase production of PPE by 40%.
“Severe and mounting disruption to the global supply chain caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse – is putting lives at risk from the new coronavirus and other infectious diseases,” its statement read.
Linzmeier said the district is up slightly in calls this year, from 204 to 220. He said the district has a supply for the next month or so and can’t imagine it will deplete all of its stock.
One item the department is short on, however, is hand sanitizer. It has only a half-dozen bottles and that goes quickly when first responders are using it more than normal.
Hospitals, clinics and first responders are able to tap into the Strategic National Stockpile, which was established in 1999 and is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in public health emergencies, according to the SNS website.
Gov. Tony Evers requested supplies from the SNS and distributed two rounds of PPE to healthcare agencies in the state through the Department of Health Services — but no one knows when the third round will be deployed. A report from the New York Times on March 31 said the SNS is nearly empty.
Oregon Area Fire and EMS received a shipment of supplies on the weekend of March 27 through the DHS.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak became a national emergency, Linzmeier said the department has had to change its procedures to prevent first responders from being unnecessarily exposed.
In line with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Dane County EMS, Oregon is only using PPE equipment with patients who show COVID-19 symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dry cough and fever.
That also includes a lot of communication on who has to be on a call, what kind of gear they are wearing and what are the symptoms of the patient.
Linzmeier used the example of a carbon monoxide detector going off in a residence. Usually, this is a standard call, and first responders suite up and enter a residence. Now, Linzmeier said, there is a lot more communication and that call can look a little different — such as asking residents to come outside and allowing only one first responder inside to expose as little people as possible.
“We will risk a lot to save a lot, but we don’t want to expose a lot,” Linzmeier said. “We want to be very cautious, and thoughtful — still do the job thoroughly but want to make sure of the safety for ourselves and others out there.”
There are six full time staffers at the Oregon Area Fire and EMS, and roughly 30 part-time, paid on call/on premises employees most of which have another job, Linzmeier said.
He said his employees have been questioned by their other employees why they don’t simply stay home and not risk the exposure — but even with that outside pressure and the personal anxiety people are still serving their community.
“That the reality of it is that people are afraid of contracting it and bringing it home — but they are still doing their runs,” Linzmeier said.