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County running out of personal protective equipment

Assistant Prince Edward County Administrator and Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Elam Puckett highlighted a continuing shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the county during a briefing on COVID-19 to the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors amid a budget work session Tuesday, April 7.

Puckett said she and Deputy Emergency Coordinator Trey Pyle spend nearly every waking moment of the day and into the evening tracking down every opportunity to procure PPE.

“There just is no good supply anywhere,” she said. “So every lead, every opportunity we find for hand sanitizer or for masks or gloves, everybody in the community is chipping in and letting us know if they hear of a possible source, and we spend a great deal of our time on the phone or via email trying to track down sources for all of the PPE and the hand sanitizer and the cleaning materials that are needed both by the county and its agencies and EMS providers.”

In a handout to the board, Puckett noted the county has ordered masks, gloves, thermal thermometers, hand sanitizer and surgical gowns.

“The county has ordered masks, and we’re expecting shipments in hopefully next week, that is if they deliver, and there’s always some uncertainty,” she said. “Some of them are coming from overseas. We have received 10,000 gloves, we’ve ordered two thermal thermometers in the event that any of our agencies need those.”

The county has also ordered 200 surgical gowns for its first responders, Puckett said.

At his Wednesday afternoon, April 8, press conference, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state can help in terms of providing PPE.

“As I mentioned yesterday, we have ordered a shipment of $27 million worth,” he said. “We expect that to arrive in the next few days. I would ask any locality, whether it be the firefighters, the first responders, law enforcement or whatever, if you are getting toward the end of your PPE or don’t have PPE, please let us know, and we will do everything we can as we disperse this equipment across Virginia to take care of, as best we can, all of your needs.”

Puckett said the county is still working on finding hand sanitizer, but at the recommendation of Leigh District Supervisor and Board Chairman Jerry R. Townsend, she reached out to Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS).

“What I said is that the county would be happy to reimburse them for any materials or supplies that they would not need since the schools were closed,” she said.

Though she had not heard back from PECPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson as of Tuesday during what is the school system’s spring break, she anticipates the division will be helpful.

“My experience is that if the schools have something, I’m confident that they would be willing to share,” Puckett said.

Townsend asked about Fuqua School, and Puckett said Fuqua does not have surplus materials.

“However, Fuqua has already helped us with the procurement of gloves, because they have a contract with a food service provider, Sysco, who had them in stock,” she said. “And so their director of operations ordered gloves for the school one day, and we got them the next. And they are now in the county’s possession and are being stored and distributed to the agencies that need them.”

She noted she also learned late Tuesday that Fuqua has two 3D printers it is putting to use to help generate PPE.

“They are printing or making with their 3D printers face shields, as is, from what I understand, Longwood University,” she said. “And those are also in use by the hospital and our first responder agencies in their response to potential COVID patients.”

During her briefing, Puckett shared a comparison of the number of calls received by county EMS agencies in March 2019, which was 326, and March 2020, which was only 244.

“Earlier in March, there was a pretty significant drop-off of EMS calls in the county, and I will say that perhaps people that historically may have asked to be transported to the hospital for something, a lot of people are reconsidering that given the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Now, we are seeing that those call volumes are picking back up, so I don’t know that we will continue to see that disparity.”