Public Safety Officials Seek To Protect First Responders From Coronavirus

Mar 20, 2020

Pittsburgh public safety officials said they have taken extra measures to protect emergency responders as the city combats the spread of the coronavirus. Among the tactics: limiting the interaction between police and the public by having officers respond in person only to more serious calls, and handling the rest through a telephone reporting unit.

“There’s well over 100 reports that were done through that, which limits the interaction between the public and the officers,” Police Chief Scott Schubert told reporters outside the City-County Buildnig on Friday morning. But if a call involved violence or injuries, he said, “[W]e’re going to be out there, we’re going to answer it.”

Schubert added that cases of theft, harassment and fraud will be answered via phone, but officers will follow up with the victims.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said first responders are equipped with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, and that special hygienic measurers were being put in place.

“We have some specialty infection-controlled ambulances set up,” Hissrich said. “They’ve been stripped down to a minimum complement of equipment, and the patient compartment has basically been covered in plastic sheeting. So it’s a very easy decontamination after a call.”

Hissrich added that responders will have gowns and masks, but the public should not be alarmed, as it is to protect themselves from the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Emergency Medical Services Chief Ron Romano said ambulances will now restrict ride-alongs by family members.

“If it’s a child, the parent can ride,” Romano said. “Somebody with power of attorney, somebody who makes decisions for the patient [can ride]. But if somebody can get a ride to the hospital on their own, that’s what we’re going to recommend.”

Romano added that those who suspect they may have coronavirus will now be evaluated over the phone  -- an effort to determine if they must be transported to the hospital or can be isolated at home.

“There is no need for young, otherwise healthy, people without risk factors to go to the hospital for suspected virus issues,” Romano said, adding that treatment options for the disease were limited. "But if at any time you are having trouble breathing … contact 911.”

City officials added that while there is no mandatory curfew in place, they do want people to stay home. And if groups of more than 50 people are found, officials can break the gathering up under an order by Mayor Bill Peduto. But hey also expressed some frustration with Gov. Tom Wolf's late-Thursday declaration shutting down non-life-sustaining businesses.

"Like many people we saw it on the news last night," said Schubert. "We have not had the level of communication that a lot of us ... wish we would have had. [It] would have been nice to have more communication with law enforcement on expecting us to do something."