Tri-state area law enforcement officials, jail workers and first responders are changing protocols as they seek to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the dangerous disease caused by the new coronavirus.
That has forced departments to shut down or restrict public access to lobbies, and jails and fire stations have suspended all outside programming and tours.
The Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department has urged residents — aside from sex offenders completing monthly check-ins — to avoid coming to the lobby of the Dubuque Law Enforcement Center.
“Basically, we’re telling everyone at this time that current members of the sheriff’s department and police department only (are allowed) for the time being,” Sheriff Joe Kennedy said. “We’re trying to keep traffic to a minimum as much as possible.”
All other business, including applying for a weapons permit and civil processing, can be done by calling 563-589-4406 or by visiting dbqcosheriff.com.
County jail visitations, which occur via closed-circuit TV, have not been suspended. Inmates still are being allowed to meet with attorneys, as they’re “completely separated” by a partition, Kennedy said.
Public asked to stay away if not emergency
The Platteville, Wis., Police Department this week closed its front lobby to maintain the health of residents and city employees.
Officers are now handling most non-emergency calls for service by telephone. Those who need to report a crime in person must now use an intercom in the front vestibule to speak with a dispatcher.
Those needing to pay a citation, have an officer complete civil paper service or to request home security checks or police records are being directed to do so via the department’s website at Platteville.org/police. And those needing a copy of a crash report are being told to go to CRASHDOCS.org.
“Right now, the public has been very understanding of those changes and how we do business,” Platteville Police Chief Doug McKinley said. “We are not turning anybody away, but we do want to engage in a little pre-screening and (determine) whether it needs to have a face-to-face interaction or can be handled via the department’s web site or via phone.”
The Jo Daviess County, Ill., Sheriff’s Department has taken similar precautions.
“We try to handle as many calls over the phone as we can,” Sheriff Kevin Turner said. “The jail is open, but we will take extra cautions if someone comes in with symptoms. ... We have a detention room were they could be quarantined until medically cleared.”
The department has also limited public access to the Jo Daviess County Courthouse and Public Safety Building due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
“We’ll recommend people call respective departments over the phone before coming in,” Turner said.
Those with “urgent and essential businesses” will be allowed into the courthouse, while others will be turned away, he said.
Dubuque County deputies and City of Dubuque police officers responding to calls for service are also conducting as much business as possible outdoors to help maintain social distancing, with minor calls being handled by telephone.
“We may ask people to step outside rather than going inside their home ... to avoid contact and limit community spread,” Dubuque Police Chief Mark Dalsing said. “Thankfully, the public has been pretty respectful of self-isolation. ... And right now, our calls are pretty flat. We’ve been able to maintain operations effectively, and the impact has been fairly negligible for us.”
911 dispatchers screening calls for coronavirus
Dispatchers have begun asking additional screening questions about possible coronavirus exposure, particularly for medical calls.
Emergency call centers across the Telegraph Herald’s 10-county coverage area are now asking questions about symptoms such as fever, coughing and respiratory issues that could signal possible coronavirus infection.
“Our priority is to maintain service to the public,” Dubuque Fire Chief Rick Steines said.
That means protecting first responders from possible exposure and contamination by screening patients and providing forewarning of people who might have been exposed to COVID-19, Steines said.
Crews are equipped with masks, respirators, gloves, gowns and face shields should they come across someone suspected of being infected with the virus. The department is taking regular inventory of personal protective equipment due to limited global supply, Steines said.
Ambulance and fire services, as well as sheriff’s departments, jails and police departments, also have increased the frequency of sanitizing equipment, vehicles, work spaces and common areas.
Training schedules have been modified to limit class sizes, and business inspections suspended “unless absolutely needed,” Steines said.
For volunteer agencies such as Key West Fire Department, the coronavirus has meant constantly monitoring and sharing ever-changing directives and response guidelines from federal and state health officials.
“We had some training on Monday night and went over the symptoms to make sure everyone was aware of what we were dealing with,” Key West Fire Chief Chris Tigges said, adding, “right now, there’s no impact. Hopefully, this just blows over and this is the worst that it gets.”