Viral alert in Polk County allows for early coronavirus screening by 911 dispatchers

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For the first time since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Polk County’s medical director issued a viral alert as the coronavirus cases in the country continue to grow.

The alert directs 911 dispatchers to screen for possible COVID-19 cases by asking a series of questions to patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms, including fever.

“Within the last 14 days have you traveled or been in contact with someone who has traveled to: China, Japan, Iran, Italy, South Korea, or on an international cruise ship?” question one reads.

“They can screen through and basically give information to first responders on their mobile data terminals, which is the computers on all of our responding apparatus,” said Lakeland Fire Rescue Chief Shane Reynolds. “They’re able to see that, know that they’re at a heightened level when they respond to an address. Then what we do then is we limit our exposure.”

Paramedics across Polk County regularly wear gloves, gowns and masks when interacting with patients who may have an infectious and/or airborne disease, including coronavirus, influenza or tuberculosis.

If a patient may have coronavirus, the first responders will try to limit the exposure.

“Send one rescuer in. We get the patient loaded on a stretcher, out to the ambulance. We’ll keep one rescuer, on the paramedic level, in the back of the ambulance all the way to the hospital,” said Rescue Chief Reynolds. “We’ll communicate while we’re on route to the hospital with the emergency department, let them know what we have, what our estimated time of arrival is and then they can prepare and make sure that they limit their exposure.”

The same protocol was described to News Channel 8 by Auburndale Fire Chief Brian Bradway.

Dr. Paul Banerjee, the county’s medical director, said the viral alert is based off CDC guidelines.

He recommends regular handwashing, drinking fluids and keeping homes warm to fend off illness.


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