WESTBROOK, Maine — More coronavirus-related calls are taking a toll on first responders across the state—especially those without the necessary resources.
"Things have been a little chaotic,” Westbrook Fire Rescue Chief Andy Turcotte said.
The City of Westbrook is one of the lucky ones in terms of preparedness. Turcotte said he and his team have been getting ready for an outbreak since January.
In the heart of Cumberland County, where there is the most cases and evidence of community spread, the department is taking big steps to protect its personnel.
That includes relying on 9-1-1 dispatchers to now screen callers for COVID-19 symptoms, more rigorously sanitizing equipment and wearing more personal protective equipment (PPE) to otherwise routine calls.
Turcotte said they have enough PPE to last about 60 days, but he is worried it might not last.
"The PPE is going pretty darn quickly as the calls for service continue to rise,” Turcotte said.
State health officials said Monday that a recent government shipment of gear is a very small portion of what Maine needs.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Maine had received only 5 percent (25,558) of the N95 masks the state requested.
All four members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this week saying they are ‘deeply concerned’ about the shoratges of PPE and testing supplies the state has received from the Strategic National Stockpile.
"As the oldest state in the nation by median age, Maine is particularly vulnerable to the direst impacts of COVID-19," the letter states. "The state’s proximity to more densely populated areas with active hot spots also makes it a potential refuge destination and increases the risk of spread."
Maine CDC Director, Dr. Nirav Shah, said a third shipment from the federal government this week, including 60,000 N96 masks, would be the last for a while.
He fears it is still not enough.
“Maine has received a paltry amount of PPE in comparison to what we've asked for," Shah said.
In Westbrook, the department is also taking steps to educate the community through social media on what they can do to help keep first responders better protected.
Recent posts on its Facebook page show personnel in protective gear, encourage avoiding them in public and even remind people to clean and sanitize their cell phones.
Turcotte said it is important that the public not show up to any fire or police stations, and that they apply the same practice of social distancing to all first responders.
If you are experiencing minor symptoms, officials recommend calling your doctor before calling 911.
Turcotte also said the additional safety measures will not slow down response time.
"This may take longer than anybody would have liked. But we will get through this,” he said.
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