Local emergency officials announced changes to protocols that the public should expect if they need to call 911 over the coming weeks, as first responders plan for possible future cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Pikeville 911 Public Safety Director Paul Maynard announced during a Tuesday press conference that 911 dispatchers will pre-screen all emergency medical calls made over the coming weeks for possible cases or exposure of COVID-19. This will be done, Maynard said, through additional questions that dispatchers will ask the person who calls 911.

“With the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s changed the way we do business and dispatch,” Maynard said. “Our goal is not only to protect the citizens, but also protect our responders. We ask the public, please bear with us when we’re asking these questions. It may seem irrelevant to you when we’re asking these questions, but it could mean everything to us.”

The dispatchers will ask questions, he said, related to whether the person has respiratory problems or a low-grade fever, if the person is coughing, the person’s recent travel history and if the person has traveled to a location where there are known cases, as well as if the person has come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, among other similar questions.

Based on the person’s answers, Emergency Medical Services and the Pikeville Police Department will prepare accordingly to assist those who need help by taking necessary precautions in order to prevent possible exposure or spread of the virus.

“We’re not trying to question you out of a call,” Maynard said. “We’re trying to help you and help our people as well. The last thing we want to do is have our EMS or law enforcement walking in blind, so any information we can get them will help them, help the caller (and) help everybody as a whole.”

Pikeville Police’s Public Information Officer Tony Conn said that police officers will try to work more with those who need assistance over the phone, rather than in-person, when responding to non-emergency calls. The 911 dispatcher will inform the police department about the situation, and, if possible, the police officer will try to resolve the matter over the phone instead of a face-to-face meeting.

“If dispatch calls you and says, ‘Hey, can you step outside and talk to us,’ that’s the preferred way right now to do this. That way, we can keep the six-foot deal going on,” Conn said, referring to the recommended six-foot distance that people should keep from one another to prevent the spread of the virus. “We can still handle your call, handle your issue, handle your problems.”

Regarding calls being made to the police, Conn said 911 should be used for calling in more serious situations like domestic incidents and house fires, while situations that are not as immediate and serious should be saved for the station’s regular phone number, instead of 911.

“911 is for emergency services,” Conn said. “I know 911 gets tied up sometimes by calls that are not emergency. A cat stuck in a tree is not a 911 call. ‘My nephew stole my wallet four months ago’ is not a 911 call. ‘The Dollar Store’s out of toilet paper’ is not a 911 call. We’re trying to let people know, don’t tie that line up because someone could really be needing that number.”

To prevent possible spread of the virus, Maynard said, 911 dispatchers are sanitizing their work stations before and after their shifts as a precautionary measure.

“Our goal is to keep our guys healthy so we can keep providing this service with the best response we can,” Maynard said. “Bear with us. It’s a trying time. It’s uncharted territory. We’re doing our best to follow the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that, we’ll get to the flattening of the curve and once we get there, maybe we can get back to some kind of normalcy.”

The Pikeville Police Department is located at 111 Scotty Hamilton Way. For all non-emergencies, call the station at, (606) 437-6236. You may remain anonymous when you report a crime or suspicious activity by calling, (606) 437-6236.

For all up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website at, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/.

Visit the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s website for all up-to-date state information at, https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/pages/covid19.aspx.

The Pike County Health Department is located at 119 River Drive, and it can be reached at, (606) 437-5500, or online at, https://www.pikecountyhealth.com/v4i/.

For more information, Kentuckians can call the state’s new coronavirus (COVID-19) hotline, 1-(800)722-5725, for questions or additional help.

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