Emergency services staffing still OK

·4 min read

Jan. 23—The omicron surge has caused some issues for regional law enforcement agencies, but it has not caused large disruptions on patrol or fire shifts.

Officials from Owensboro and Daviess County law enforcement and fire agencies said last week that the surge has occasionally required them to pay overtime to fill shifts, but said operations have been largely unaffected.

Trooper Corey King, public affairs officer for Kentucky State Police's Henderson post, said Thursday that the agency had three troopers out earlier in the week with various illnesses.

"We are used to it now," King said. "We would certainly rather have our staff numbers where they should be.

"We do have to stagger (shifts) a little bit and work some of the well employees as best we can that way" King said.

For example, the post has adjusted shifts to have troopers on hand during the busiest times, King said.

"We have been hit as much as everyone else has," King said.

Sheriff Barry Smith of the Daviess County Sheriff's Department said Thursday that people were out with COVID-19-19, but the absences were spread out among the patrol deputies, courthouse security and office staff.

Smith said three staff members had been diagnosed with COVID-19-19 between Monday and Thursday.

"We are hoping it won't continue to build," he said. "We're fortunate it hasn't affected any one shift. It hasn't been like I'm getting half of a shift off."

Owensboro-Daviess County 911 director Paul Nave said the agency is using both the main dispatch center and the backup center in the Daviess County Courthouse to distance staff members and prevent transmission of the virus.

"We have had several who have had it over the last two week," Nave said. "I have had four for sure, and a couple that have been exposed.

"We have had to cover shifts with overtime, and we've had to split shifts" with dispatchers working part of one shift and part of another, Nave said. "It has been a pain."

Daviess County Fire Chief Jeremy Smith said Friday that he has had some COVID-19 cases among the staff, and some in isolation, but it was possible he would have a full staff back by next week.

"It hasn't caused me too much heartache," Smith said. The department has largely kept in place the safety measures implemented at the start of the pandemic, such as wearing protective equipment like gloves and masks and cleaning equipment after completing calls for service.

"I haven't been short-staffed yet. I have had to fill in a few (shifts) with overtime, but I was able to do that with the people we have," Smith said. Face mask have become regular practice, he said.

Previously, "any time we had a flu patient, we would wear a mask," Smith said. "We always do the best we can to protect our people, and the patient as well."

City Fire Chief James Howard said there have regularly been firefighters out with COVID-19 since the first of the year.

"Sometimes, we have had to use overtime to keep minimum staffing," Howard said. When necessary, off-duty firefighters have been called in to help fill shifts, Howard said.

"We have had cases, but we are able to manage," he said. The department developed contingency plans at the beginning of the pandemic to deal with large staffing shortages, but it hasn't had to use them, Howard said.

"I wouldn't say it's normal around here, but we are living with it," Howard said.

Officer Andrew Boggess, public information officer for the Owensboro Police Department, said the department is not experiencing any more absences due to the omicron variant, compared to any other time during the pandemic.

"We have had some people out, but that has been an ongoing thing for going on two years now," Boggess said. "I don't know if there has been a real significant change at this point."

Boggess said officers will wear PPE when they know there is a COVID-19-positive person at a call. But, otherwise, it's up to the officer whether to wear a mask, Boggess said. Smith said the sheriff's office is operating the same way.

At one time, 911 dispatchers would ask callers screening questions to determine if they potentially had the virus. Dispatch isn't requiring call takers to ask screening questions now, Nave said.

"Typically, we are under the assumption that everyone is positive" with COVID-19, Nave said.

Screening for the virus over the phone is difficult, Nave said.

"It's almost impossible, with people who have been exposed and they don't know," he said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse