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Prince Edward looks into longer-term emergency management

Prince Edward County Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Elam Puckett shared an update on a variety of subjects related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, April 21.

Puckett said the county is continuing to source personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies. County staff members are starting to assess “PPE burn rates,” which are the PPE utilization rates of all the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) agencies. This assessment is taking place to predict and procure for PPE needs in the longer term so the county’s front-line first responders have the equipment they need to stay safe.

She indicated she and Deputy Emergency Coordinator Trey Pyle may come back to the board in the future and talk about creating a Prince Edward County inventory that will help manage the PPE for the agencies and first responders in a timeframe of six months or more.

“The first thing we will do is reach out to the fire chiefs and the EMS agencies, and I’ve already spoken with the sheriff today just because he was in the courthouse,” she said. “We want to figure out what the essential PPE items are, and then based on what everybody’s burn rate is, try and make a projection. Trey did daily burn rates on some of the PPE, but we may not be tracking everything that’s used, and we need to figure out what we’re not tracking and then try and project out what we think we’ll need and then start working on procuring that so that we know our agencies will have it when it’s needed.”

She noted the county has received some PPE and is working to distribute it to the courts, the courthouse, Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office, Prince Edward County Department of Social Services and the volunteer fire departments.

Puckett emphasized to supervisors that based on the information county staff members have, the county has community spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In terms of the challenges and vulnerabilities the county faces, she noted the sustainability of the county’s non-profit organizations will continue to be a challenge.

She highlighted that Farmville Cares, a coalition of community nonprofits and faith-based organizations, is continuing to do good work.

Patsy Watson is leading a group of about 30 volunteers in manning a community help line, Puckett said.

“In the last four weeks, they had answered over 300 calls from people on a variety of subjects or concerns,” Puckett said. “And in talking with her today, I’ve asked her if she could please bring to our attention what I’m calling emerging issues, something that we may not have identified and that we’d rather bring a team together and be able to address it before it becomes a crisis situation in the community.”

Puckett noted one issue Watson identified immediately was people who are going to be “timing out” on their emergency housing because there is a limit on how long STEPS Inc. can provide assistance.

“So she wanted to bring that to the county’s attention that there could be people who the very next step for them — if there isn’t another opportunity — could be that they would be homeless,” Puckett said.

When it comes to how the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to develop in Virginia, Puckett admitted there is substantial uncertainty in the models.

“But the takeaway as of today is that Virginia is likely at or near the peak of its hospitalization rate during what they’re calling the physical distancing phase,” she said. “So it has accomplished what we hoped it would, and so statewide hospital capacity is unlikely to be reached in the near term, which is very good news for all Virginians.”

On the health care front, Puckett had positive news to report in terms of COVID-19 testing speed.

“What we understand is that most of the testing is being turned around now pretty much within a day, so it’s pretty good,” she said.

She noted Centra has started in-house testing, but it is still somewhat limited.

Giving an update on the county’s EMS agencies, she indicated they are continuing to see a reduction in calls.

“The EMS agencies in the county ran 41 calls last week, which is still down from what I’m going to call a typical week,” she said. “It’s 18 down from the week prior and 30 below the expected normal, so that’s still a lot of people that, I’m going to say, have historically opted to be transported that are opting to not call for transport.”

She also highlighted that there are new security protocols in place at the Prince Edward County Courthouse aimed at minimizing both contact and the opportunity for sharing respiration at the security entrance. She said this will help protect sheriff’s officers and county employees.

Puckett said the county also distributed masks to anyone who needed them.