First responders take on COVID

  • An ambulance leaves on a call from the Kailua Fire Station. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file photo)

Hawaii Island’s first responders have protocols in place and are ready should they come across persons with confirmed or possible COVID-19 in the course of their work.

“Our personnel are directed to use extreme caution when dealing with someone who may be infected with an infectious disease such as the Coronavirus,” Hawaii Police Department Deputy Chief Kenneth Bugado said this week. “Because of the nature of police work where exposure to bodily fluids and blood-borne pathogens are frequent, our officers are trained to use extreme caution.”

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Officers are issued personal protective equipment such as protective disposable gloves, goggles, and CPR masks, he said. The department has planned on adding five masks and disposable gowns to the existing protective equipment, however, since those items are in high demand, they have not received them yet.

Hawaii Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Lance Uchida said the department is following updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Those guidelines were updated earlier this week to protect all first responders — including law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, and emergency management officials.

According to the CDC, the services play a vital role in responding to requests for assistance, triaging patients and providing emergency medical treatment and transport for ill persons.

However, unlike patient care in the controlled environment of a health care facility, care and transports by EMS present unique challenges because of the nature of the setting, enclosed space during transport, frequent need for rapid medical decision-making, interventions with limited information, and a varying range of patient acuity and jurisdictional health-care resources.

Uchida said if a patient is displaying flu-like symptoms, emergency medical services personnel will don eye protection, masks and gowns. They already disinfect ambulances after returning from a call, but are being extra cautious with potential COVID-19 patients.

Uchida said anyone with flu symptoms, or recently returned from travel should alert the 911 dispatcher of their situation to keep emergency personnel safe.

The same goes for police, according to Bugado, who said that if a member of the public is exhibiting any symptoms associated with a virus such as the flu or a cold and needs police assistance, they are advised to let the call taker in dispatch know about it so that the officers can take the necessary precautions upon arrival and do not get infected.

The safety of first responders, both police officers and medics is critical when dealing with all of the social and medical issues that a highly infectious disease such as this presents, Bugado said.

“It’s a community effort,” said Uchida. “It’s going to take all of us to keep our community safe.”

Uchida said the community needs to stay informed through the Department of Health, CDC and Civil Defense messages and websites.

“Follow the guidelines for hand washing and general hygiene and maintain social distance,” he said. “If you are sick, stay home.”

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The CDC has also issued guidelines for schools, health-care facilities, workplace, community and faith-based organizations and homeless shelters.

For more information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

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