As first responders and local leaders look to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus in the community, they’re taking extra precautions in their own emergency center now.
Last week, leaders with the City of Sequim, Clallam County Fire District 3, and Sequim School District opened the Emergency Coordinating Center (ECC) in the Sequim Transit Center on March 18 to support the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Port Angeles.
Leaders opted to move the facility on Monday, March 23 to the larger Guy Cole Event Center in Carrie Blake Community Park.
“There’s more space for social distancing (at least six feet apart) and room for expansion if needed,” Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush said.
Inside the ECC, staff and volunteers from multiple agencies continue to partner to identify needs and resources such as childcare and food options in eastern Clallam County to help those in need.
Bush said having key players in the same room makes it easier to respond to community needs and communicate.
The center is not open to the public and those entering must have their temperature taken and answer a series of questions about symptoms related to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
District 3 Fire Chief Ben Andrews said they continue to hold conversations with Clallam County leaders about shifting the ECC support facility into its own Emergency Operations Center.
“Are we ready to take that on?” Andrews asked personnel on March 20. “I think we are.”
That would put Sequim in a position to be the direct response team for COVID-19 in eastern Clallam County.
The emergency center coordinates efforts of the Sequim Police Department and Fire District 3’s firefighters/EMTs while they continue with their regular shifts for crime and medical calls.
City and fire district leaders said as of March 23 two firefighters and one city staffer have been tested for COVID-19.
Assistant Fire Chief Dan Orr said one firefighter tested negative and he will return to his next shift later this week. Another firefighter was tested, and is awaiting results later this week. He is home recovering from flu-like symptoms, Orr said.
Bush said one city staffer tested negative and that person is home recovering.
Andrews said in larger counties, first responders who have or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19-like symptoms are being quarantined for 14 days if they aren’t wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) or they experience protective equipment failure.
However, in Sequim, he said they aren’t doing that here unless staff show COVID-19 symptoms of a fever over 100.4 degrees Farenheit, are coughing and/or sneezing, and experiencing trouble breathing.
Medical professionals say symptoms could take up to 14 days to show.
Orr said they can’t wait 14 days because “our staff is too small.”
They’ll note possible exposure when they help someone with flu-like symptoms without a PPE, and if they experience a PPE failure.
Orr said experiencing people with possible COVID-19 symptoms has increased in the past week.
If the firefighter/medic shows symptoms then he/she is tested and quarantined. If negative then they go back to work, Orr said.
Limited tests in Sequim have been reserved for first responders, and they take about four days to see results, Orr said.
Olympic Ambulance is taking similar measures, Orr said, and the fire department sees them “as vital partners” during the pandemic.
Bush said city staff and police are basing their COVID-19 testing on symptoms for now, too, and they’ve implemented more social distancing measures for staff.
He said about 75 percent of the city’s staff in the Sequim Civic Center are working from home or taking time off. The few who remain working in the building stagger lunches and separate themselves, he said.
Sue Hagener, Sequim’s director of administrative services, said staff are being allowed to use flexible hours with working part-time and using sick time, holiday and/or vacation time to make up the difference for full work weeks.
Bush encouraged people to look at the pandemic like an ultra-marathon and that it’s about getting into a long groove.
“This is a different reality for people,” he said. “It’s important to adjust and find things to do and hobbies that interest you. For example, I spent the weekend on my lawn. It’ll probably be the best it’s ever looked.”
Derrell Sharp, the fire district’s medical safety officer, suggests people drink a lot of fluids, eat healthy and plan for ways to reduce your stress, such as going for walks.
“Every little thing we can do is not just in your best interest but the community’s,” he said.
ECC leaders said they’ll continue to look for potential partnerships with stakeholders, such as Peninsula Behavioral Health, Olympic Medical Center and others to see how they can help one another.