FLORENCE — Pinal County’s Emergency Management and Public Health departments are working full time on keeping track of coronavirus cases and parceling out supplies from the shipment of medical equipment the county got from the federal stockpile.
Pinal County Emergency Management Director Charles Kmet said the county, like the state, got about 75% of the supplies it asked for from the federal Strategic National Stockpile.
The equipment arrived in Arizona at the end of March and included 1.2 million medical supplies, according to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office. The supplies include masks, face shields, gowns, coveralls, gloves and a federal medical station for the Navajo Nation.
Kmet said his team has been coordinating with hospitals and local Community Emergency Response Teams to unload, divide and deliver supplies to local hospitals and medical centers. He didn’t have an exact number of the various supplies that the county received from the shipment.
The main purpose of the emergency center isn’t to direct the county’s response to the pandemic, but to help coordinate efforts and communication between federal, state and local departments and handle the logistics between all of those agencies, he said. It also provides communication services, such as evacuation notices, from those agencies to the public.
“We’re more like a customer service center,” Kmet said.
For example, during a wildfire, the center doesn’t direct firefighters on how to fight the fire but makes sure they have the equipment and support they need when they need it, while coordinating communication between the firefighters and federal, state and local agencies such as the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office or Health Department. Each of the county’s various departments — finance, communications, public safety, public works, etc., has a desk in the center in order to help coordinate the effort.
The center opened in mid-March after the Pinal County Board of Supervisors declared a county emergency. The last time the center opened was during a wildfire last year, Kmet said. The last time the center was opened for a public health emergency was during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009.
The center was opened and the federal supplies were ordered at the request of the Pinal County Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Section, headed by Kore Redden.
The section responds to a variety of situations where the health of the public could be in jeopardy including natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, tornados, earthquakes, bio or chemical terrorism events and disease outbreaks caused by food, water or animals and communicable diseases such as measles, the flu or the current COVID-19 virus.
The section receives regular reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on infectious diseases, such as the flu, measles or a coronavirus like COVID-19, which may be circulating in the state, nation or world, she said. The center already has plans in place and regularly trains on how to handle an outbreak or pandemic situation.
“We knew what to do and what we were going to do before we even got our first case,” Redden said.
When the first case of COVID-19 appeared in Pinal County, the section opened its Public Health Incident Command Center in order to more effectively monitor the situation.
The incident command center coordinates the county’s response to a public health emergency with county departments and local medical facilities, she said. It has been keeping track of the number of cases of COVID-19 in the county and reporting them to state and federal authorities.
It also keeps track of every test for the virus in the county, calls each person who is tested and investigates who they may have been in contact with and then contacts those people to see if they have symptoms and need to be tested, Redden said.
It is also responsible for putting in the county’s request for supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile and coordinating with local hospitals and medical centers to determine how much equipment is needed and where the greatest needs are.
This command center has someone on call at all hours of the day to take information on new cases of COVID-19, she said. The center is fully staffed six days a week during regular business hours and is on call on Sundays as well.