LIVE OAK — While there hasn’t been a confirmed case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Suwannee County yet, Suwannee County Fire Rescue is ready if, and when, it does arrive.

Eddie Hand, the public safety director and fire chief for the county, said his department has designated one station and one ambulance for potential COVID-19 patients, as long as the call isn’t a life or death emergency.

“What we’re doing is sending one truck to the house to limit exposure to our trucks and our people,” Hand said, adding that the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office communications department is screening emergency calls, asking the questions and guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and the Florida Department of Health to determine if it is a possible Coronavirus case.

“If it is, then they call our supervisor and then we send out the truck that we have designated for that.”

Hand added that there has only been one instance in which that designated truck was used and it didn’t involve a COVID-19 case, but they erred on the side of caution even though all the criteria didn’t align.

But if those calls start to increase, Hand said there are plans in place to add extra units just for that purpose.

“But as of now, we haven’t had to enact anything over our normal response plans,” he said.

In addition to designating one specific ambulance for potential impacted patients, Hand said the department is also taking the health and wellbeing of its own employees into consideration as well. Those precautions include full PPE gear for workers on those calls with masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection.

And so far, so good on that front as well. Hand said the department began planning for the potential pandemic several months ago, ordering extra supplies to have on hand to start their response to it, just in case. An additional request for supplies has also been sent to the state by Sharon Hingson with the county’s emergency management division.

“Hopefully that order will be filled and we’ll be in good shape no matter what happens,” Hand said. “But as of now, we can handle it for the foreseeable future with what we’ve got on hand.

“Right now, we’re just hoping and praying that this thing starts slowing down sooner or later, but we’re preparing for when and if it does get to Suwannee County.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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