County COVID-19 briefing: South County Fire employees staying healthy; officials support increased testing

Shaughn Maxwell

Every time a 911 dispatch alerts them, South County Fire and Rescue crews may head for the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. And South County’s 270 firefighters, paramedics and staff are ready for a coronavirus confrontation, said Deputy Chief Shaughn Maxwell, commander of the agency’s emergency medical services.

In a Snohomish County COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Maxwell reported that no South County crew or staff members have contracted the virus so far.

He said that a responding unit is always prepared to “gown-up” a team member with masks, gloves, goggles and a personal protection gown. That crewmember will go in alone to assess the emergency and the people they come in contact with. Only then does the rest of the crew go in.

A normal crew consists of three to four people, usually a captain, a firefighter and one member who is an emergency medical technician/medic/firefighter. They dispatch additional crews as needed.

When it comes to having enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, Maxwell said that very early in the virus outbreak, the fire authority found itself in “a perfect storm of good things coming together and the fire service is in good shape in the county.” While South County Fire is still searching aggressively for gear to meet future needs, for now Maxwell said he is confident that the agency has the equipment necessary to protect its first responders.

South County Fire serves 250,000 people, including those in Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Lynnwood and unincorporated areas of Snohomish County.

Also speaking at the Tuesday briefing were Snohomish County’s Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters and County Executive Dave Somers. When it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak, the county is “at a point where collectively we can catch our breath,” Spitters said, adding that “we appear to be on the downside” of the pandemic locally.

Spitters noted that the number of new cases, countywide, is about 30 a day, down from 80-100 a day in recent weeks.

As of Monday, there were also fewer hospitalized patients, which Spitters said “is making for a lightened load for hospitals.” However, it is not the daily numbers, but the trends, that now matter, he added.

“The action you (citizens) are taking is saving lives and we very much appreciate that,” said County Executive Somers, adding that the slower progress of the virus is “…keeping cases within the capacity of our medical system.”

Somers said it is time to start planning for recovery, and he announced the launch of an Office of Economic Recovery and Resilience to help the county transition back and ease some restrictions.

To help speed that process, Somers said the county needs increased testing capability, something Spitters echoed. While many are still frustrated by testing progress, Spitters said that no one knew much about the virus just four months ago and that three months ago, the first tests were rolling out.

Both Somers and Spitters agree they want to make it possible for anyone with compatible symptoms of the virus to get tested, and that is still the goal.

— By Bob Throndsen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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