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City Public Safety Officials Using Telemedicine, Encouraging People To Stay Home During Weekend

Gene J. Puskar

Pittsburgh's officials warned on Friday that too many residents violated "social distancing" rules meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus last weekend, there was less social distancing last weekend, as milder weather brought more people out to public parks. 

"They were packed and there was no social distancing," Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said at a press conference. "We have to maintain our vigilance, now is not the time to let our guard down. Sacrifices have to be made, and will hopefully pay off in the long term." 

Hissrich said that if people want to go to parks, that they don't go during peak hours. He there will be heavier police presence in the parks this weekend. If people do not adhere to social distancing rules, he warned, they could be cited or parks could close. As of now, he said the rims have been removed from basketball backboards, and the Mount Washington Overlook is closed. 

Emergency Medical Services Assisant Chief Mark Pinchalk said they have enlisted the help of Poison Control for screening callers for COVID-19.

The way it works is this: If a person calls 9-1-1 complaining of potential symptoms of the virus, the dispatcher will screen the caller for symptoms of the disease. If the screening is positive, the call will be transferred to the Poison Control Center for evaluation by a health care professional. If the center recommends the person stay home, EMS will cancel the ambulance response, and Poison Control will follow up with the caller daily.

Pinchalk says the process will reduce the strain on local resources.

"If we can keep those people home safely, we will," Pinchalk said. "That's less stress we put on the healthcare system [and] less people potentially exposed." 
He said officials have also established telemedicine procedures between paramedics and UPMC health professionals. If a patient is displaying symptoms, first responders can consult on whether the patient needs to be taken to the hospital.