Across the world, people working in virtually every industry have begun working from home or closing their businesses to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Without the option of avoiding contact with the public, local first responders are using new cleaning procedures and protective gear to keep themselves and the public as safe from the virus' spread as possible. Police have begun wiping down their patrol vehicles at least once daily, while EMS personnel are taking care to air out ambulances after transporting someone.
"Since 9/11, police, fire and EMS have kind of been more ready for some of this," Mitchell Director of Public Safety Glen Still said Thursday. "We started to use gloves more and had the eye protection, and we had some masks available, things like that, anyway, so we were pretty much OK."
Still said Mitchell dispatchers have begun asking callers if they have any coronavirus symptoms, so police, firefighters or EMS can be aware when they respond to a situation and can use gloves, masks or glasses for protection. The department is also now taking more of the less-urgent complaints over the phone, rather than sending an officer to collect information for a report in person.
"We try to keep the personal contacts a little lessened if we can. If a situation requires a police response, of course, the police will respond," Still said, noting the overall number of calls coming through Mitchell's dispatch center seems to have decreased slightly since people began staying home more and practicing the social distancing recommendations from the CDC.
Still said while the department still has a substantial supply of masks and gloves, he expects it will run out of disinfecting wipes by the middle of next week. Mitchell police have been using them to clean their patrol vehicles, as well as any equipment they may have touched, at the beginning and end of every shift.
Wagner police also have protective gear on hand and are required to sanitize patrol vehicles before and after shifts, as well as at officers' discretion, Chief Tim Simonsen said.
"If we have somebody that we suspect has it, then we put the gloves and masks on. We're not wearing them out in the public just for everyday (use)," Simonsen said.
To cut down on some face-to-face interaction, Simonsen said, people currently aren't being picked up for most warrants in Charles Mix County, and though the police station remains open, most people have been calling rather than stopping in.
McCook County Emergency Manager B.J. Stiefvater, who also leads the county's ambulance service, said EMS are following CDC guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE). Protective gear is worn when transporting someone with respiratory issues or a fever, and if a person confirmed to have COVID-19 is transported, anyone in the back of the ambulance wears complete isolation gear.
While en route to a medical facility, Stiefvater said, most ambulances, including McCook County's, have ventilation systems that draw air out of the back. If the person being transported is symptomatic, he said, extensive cleaning is done after they're dropped off, and ambulance doors are left open for a while to keep air moving, as recommended by the CDC.
"This particular (virus), once it sticks on something, it's there," Stiefvater said. "The less things moving around in the air, the better ... Everything is completely decontaminated: floor, ceiling, walls, the cot, everything they touched. If a cabinet was open, everything in the cabinet has to come out and get wiped down; the cabinet has to be wiped out, then everything has to be put back."
Stiefvater said EMS personnel are screened for symptoms at healthcare facilities and often when entering nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and everyone transported in an ambulance has their temperature taken, even if they're not exhibiting the respiratory symptoms caused by the coronavirus.
"For us, as an EMS provider, when we go to facilities, obviously they see us as a carrier, somebody that's going to bring it in, because we go all over the community," Stiefvater said. "So we're screened, as well as our patients, when we first get to the facility, wherever that facility is. They'll ask us the same series of questions that they would ask any normal person coming through the door."