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00000177-b32b-d5f4-a5ff-bbfb6e660000Here is the information you need to know about COVID-19 in Northwest Florida. We will keep this post updated with the latest information from local, and statewide agencies. For inforamtion from Centers for Disease Control and prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirusFor updates on Florida cases of coronavirus, visit the FDOH dashboard.The COVID-19 call center is available at 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121

First Responders Ask for Public's Help Fighting COVID-19

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Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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As part of the tip of the spear in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, first responders are asking the residents of their communities to help them out.

And the same goes for Pensacola.

“One of my roles here is emergency operations chief with the city; and so all of the sacrifices that all of you in the city of Pensacola are making, you’re city’s making those sacrifices, too,” said Pensacola Fire Chief Ginny Cranor. Case in point she says, is the parking lot at City Hall.

“Not as many city employees are here today; we are operating under our Continuity of Operations plans,” Cranor said. “We are actively taking our direction from the Florida Department of Emergency Management, and through our coordination with the Escambia County [Emergency Operations Center].”

On Monday Cranor announced that a Pensacola firefighter had tested positive for COVID-19, after returning from a recent international trip.

“They’re doing very well, but they have not been back to a fire station since they returned from that travel; so that’s a good thing,” Cranor said. “It is important that we keep our workforce well; all of our first responders and everybody.”

The city mandates all staff members who have recently traveled internationally or on cruises to self-isolate for 14 days. The chief reminds everyone that there is a finite number of first responders – fire, police, emergency medical – and they all run the risk of contracting COVID-19 through their duties.

“So we’re asking you to continue to do the sacrifice and the good job that you’re doing, said Cranor. “We need you to dig in just a little bit longer, and work on staying at home and protecting your first responders and all of the critical infrastructure in the city.”

When you call 911, says Cranor, you’re calling for an emergency, that you’re to the point you’re having difficulty breathing – one of COVID’s symptoms. She says it’s important that you summon an ambulance for that.

“Please continue to call your primary care provider, the Department of Health, or that 24-hour hotline number (850-746-2684),” said Cranor about issues that don't involve breathing problems. “If you call for some other medical condition that requires an ambulance, wait outside in the fresh air. That puts the first responders in the fresh air, and keeps everyone a little safer.”

The basics of self-protection – frequent hand-washing, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or your elbow, et cetera – remain at the forefront in battling coronavirus. So does staying home, if necessary. Cranor points to a photo that’s now going viral – no pun intended – on social media, which implores people to become part of the solution, and not add to the problem.

“’We came to work for you, please stay home for us.’ And I can’t think of anything else that better describes how important it is right now for us to do our part as citizens and help reduce that surge on health care.”

“Actually, our call volume is down about 30%, so that’s good,” said Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter. “Of course, all the bars are closed, all the restaurants are closed; so that lends itself to lower call volumes.”

Lyter says safeguards for officers have been in place since the early days of the outbreak.

“We made pretty significant changes internally; early on we went to ‘call and reporting,’” said Lyter. “Our social distancing at any time if we’re responding to a disturbance or responding to a call we’re asking them to step outside. We actually don’t have lineup at the station anymore; we’re pushing them out through computers. So, if they don’t have to go to the police department we’re asking them not to go to the police department.”

Another precaution is that officers will no longer respond in person to so-called "minor situations” that are over with and that do not require the collection of evidence. And the measures cover traffic stops as well.

“Most of the traffic stops lend themselves to an easy social distancing, simply because you’re interacting with somebody inside the car, and the officer is outside,” said the chief. “Whenever possible we’ll ask them to step out and still maintain that social distancing of 6-feet. So knock on wood – we’re doing a pretty good job.”

The healthcare professionals working with coronavirus patients – the doctors, nurses and support personnel – are people, too says Lyter. And the public can help protect them by treating them with respect and taking their own action.

“The best thing that you can do – we’re not asking you to climb mountains, we’re not asking you to fight wars,” said Lyter. “We’re asking you to simply self-isolate if you’re sick; maintain social distancing, and not get into groups of 10 or more. It’s not that heavy.”

Based on guidance from the state, Pensacola Fire and Police Departments have stopped fire station tours temporarily, to protect first responders and maintain critical public safety infrastructure.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.