While the coronavirus is unique in its ability to affect world populations on both viral and emotional levels—sending otherwise clear-thinking people into frantic stampedes to buy every roll of toilet paper or bottled water in sight—dealing with possible pathogens on a daily basis is nothing new to first responders in San Benito County.
Sheriff’s Captain Eric Taylor said the department has always trained to protect its personnel against infectious diseases.
“This is nothing new for us,” he said. “We have dealt with HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis along the way. This is not different.”
Deputies are prepared to don personal protection equipment (PPE) whenever necessary, Taylor said.
“We have PPEs and will put a mask on an in-custody if they display symptoms,” he said. Also, District Attorney Candice Hooper and presiding judge Stephen Sanders have relaxed rules on issuing citations in lieu of arrest to protect all parties involved.
San Benito County sheriff’s deputies are in a unique position among first responders, in that each is also a deputy coroner.
“Therefore, they always have their gear,” Taylor said. “They do suit up at times when it is warranted (i.e. hepatitis, tuberculosis, etc.), and during our one COVID-19-related death.”
Hollister Fire Department Chief Bob Martin Del Campo told BenitoLink that his department routinely trains to handle such cases.
“HFD engages in required blood-born pathogen training and airborne infectious diseases,” he said. Though the fire department does not transport emergency medical personnel, he said firefighters have their own PPE in order to assist medical personnel if needed.
Interim Hollister Police Chief Carlos Reynoso said since the COVID-19 pandemic, dispatchers now ask additional questions before officers respond to a call.
“They ask the reporting party if he or she is sick or have any of the other indicators of possibly having the COVID-19 virus,” Reynoso said. “If they answer in the affirmative, the dispatcher advises the officers so they can take extra steps for their own safety.”
When HPD officers respond to a call, Reynoso said they use their cell phones as much as possible.
“When appropriate, they will call in and speak with the reporting party as much as possible in order to limit person-to-person contact,” he said. “Cases that involve an in-progress crime or violent felonies are treated as usual, and require immediate response.”
The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, Hollister Fire Department and Hollister Police Department all reported that they have sufficient numbers of personal protection equipment, with more coming soon. They also said that for the duration of the shelter-in-place order, their lobbies are closed to the public.
Contrary to rumors that some Hollister firefighters tested positive for COVID-19, Chief Martin Del Campo said three firefighters were tested, but were not found to be positive. A March 30 release announced all three firefighters returned to work that day from quarantine; it noted that they were exposed on March 16 during a medical call and that quarantine/medical surveillance began March 17. HPD and the Sheriff’s Office have not reported any exposure to COVID-19.
Taylor commented that the Sheriff’s Office encourages the public to obey the shelter-in-place order.
“If they are thinking of ways around it, they are the problem, not the solution,” he said. “We have had great compliance in our community and we hope it stays that way for the duration of the order. We can all get through this together. Our deputies are out on the street, and only a phone call away. There was a social media post recently that read, ‘For the first time in history, we can save the human race by staying inside and watching TV from the couch. Let’s not screw this up.’ That’s great advice we hope all in our community will take in.”
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