SYRACUSE — As of Wednesday, March 18, there had been no COVID-19 cases reported in Kosciusko County, but first responders in the area are making sure they are prepared to assist those who may need transportation to a hospital.
Mickey Scott, fire chief for the Turkey Creek Fire Territory, explained Kosciusko County Dispatch is screening calls from citizens thinking they may have the virus and need medical assistance. Dispatchers are asking a set of questions and then letting emergency responders know if COVID-19 may be a possibility.
Scott stressed if someone believes they have the virus, they need to contact their personal physician first. When responding to a call that may actually be a case of COVID-19, first responders are using all protocols outlined by the Centers of Disease Control and the Indiana Department of Health. “We’re trying to stay abreast of everything,” Scott said, noting information is coming almost hourly.
Scott hasn’t seen a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, gowns and medical-grade wipes yet, however purchasing extra supplies to have on hand has proven to be problematic. Items like the E95 masks, which prevent 95 percent of the virus, while also restricting breathing, are hard to come by. Scott said he’s heard that body shops that use similar masks are having a hard time getting them.
“As for the panic buying, people just need to stop,” Scott said. “Just because you get it, doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence. Most people are going to survive this.” He stressed following the advice of frequent hand washing and using some restraint for the next few weeks.
Tony Doyle, Lutheran EMS manager, Kosciusko Division, said 911 dispatchers are screening callers for possible COVID-19. “When we arrive we do an initial survey of the patient from a distance,” he explained. “If it is not life-threatening we ask the patient to put on a mask. Then we also put on our personal protective equipment.”
Lutheran EMS has been sheltering in place as much as possible and EMS crews have been asked to not be out in public unless needed. He, too, is seeing shortages of some necessary equipment such as masks and gowns.
Milford Fire Chief Todd Haines explained the Milford Fire Department offers support to Lutheran EMS. The department has set up one of its trucks with masks and other protective gear. If called to support Lutheran, Milford firefighters will stage outside the residence and provide assistance as needed. Haines also reported the department has a minimum of E95 masks.
Cody Manges, chief of operation for North Webster/Tippecanoe Township Fire Department stated they are staying on station rather than being out among the public and additional disinfecting the ambulance. Just like other departments, they are seeing a backorder of PPE items, up to several months. Manges encourages persons to call their physician or the COVID-19 hotline at (877) 826-0011 for assistance.
Dr. Daniel Nafziger, chief medical officer for Goshen Hospital, said in an email individuals who are concerned they might have COVID-19 should call their primary care physician first. Anyone who is concerned they might have been exposed to the virus should not go to their physician’s office without calling first. Goshen Health System operates Family Medicine/Milford and Syracuse Family Physicians.
Nafziger went on to say Goshen Health medical professionals are following hospital policies and strictly adhering to isolation protocols that mandate the necessary personal protective equipment.
Some Goshen Health patients are showing concern.
“We are providing care, education and instructions to address their worries,” Nafziger said. “It is important to share that we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of any virus in our communities. We make sure they understand the COVID-19 symptoms, but also that they can increase their chances of being healthy through rigorous hand washing, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, by coughing or sneezing into their elbow or a tissue and staying home if they are sick. They can also help their friends and family by social distancing.”
Asked about a reported shortage of personal protective equipment, Nafziger said, “Hospitals around the world are facing personal protective equipment shortages. We are proactively managing and conserving all supplies needed to take care of our community. Yes, we are receiving some supplies and doing our best to conserve and manage what we receive. This is an area where we need help from our state and federal governments to help spur the manufacturing of additional supplies.”
In a press release, Kosciusko Community Hospital said staff are taking proactive steps to prepare for the protection of patients, caregivers and the community. “We are using the screening guidelines for symptoms and risk factors and have a response plan to protect patients and staff,” the release stated. “If a physician determines a patient meets the risk criteria, they will coordinate testing.”
On its website, Parkview Hospital stated individuals with minor symptoms are advised to stay home rather than seek testing or medical care in order to avoid exposing others.
If a patient has a cough; 100 degree or higher fever, has traveled to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran and is concerned of having been exposed; and does not have difficulty breathing, Parkview recommends the patient stay home with support in isolation and call Parkview Physicians Group office or (877) PPG-TODAY for a free phone screening. Performing a screening over the phone will allow medical review while limiting exposure to others.
If the patient has the above symptoms with difficulty breathing, Parkview asks patients to seek care at an emergency department.