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Highland Lakes first responders adapt to evolving COVID-19 crisis

Marble Falls Police Department

Highland Lakes first responders are adopting additional safety measures in light of the epidemic, including closing lobbies to the public and having dispatchers screen callers. Photo by Stennis Shotts

Among the essential services still in operation are police departments, emergency medical services, and fire departments. However, just because they’re responding to calls, doesn’t mean everything is business as usual.

Highland Lakes first responders are taking extra precautions amid the COVID-19 crisis, including temporarily putting some services on hold and closing lobbies to the public.

“We’re trying to be prepared and coming into every call with the idea that this could be a COVID patient until proven otherwise, so it’s all about protecting responders right now,” said Marble Falls Area EMS Operations Director Kevin Naumann. “We’re wearing masks on every call, we’re wearing eye protection, gloves like always, but just taking an extra effort behind personal protective equipment.”

EMS is also adopting additional protocols to help identify patients ahead of time. Dispatchers are screening callers about symptoms such as dry cough, fever, and others. If any of the answers raise alarms, EMS will have patients meet them outdoors to prevent spending time with them in an enclosed space. The patient may then be made to wear a mask to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“Other than that, our precautions are about the same as those you’d take at home, keeping really clean,” Naumann said. “We make sure we’re sanitizing after every call and take extra focus to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves and the people we’re interacting with.”

While many in-person, non-essential services are being halted by first responders, efforts are being made to ensure the public has access to the most vital, Burnet EMS coordinator Curtis Murphy said.

“With us being emergency services, we don’t want to totally close our lobby yet,” Murphy said. “We want people to have access to our car seat program, stuff like that, where if they’re in an emergency situation like if they don’t have a car seat for their child. But we are doing a little bit of screening on those people just to try to make sure we cut down the risk as much as possible.”

The Marble Falls Police Department is making no changes to its emergency call response, whether life or property is at risk. Officers will handle as many service calls by phone as possible. The lobby will be closed, but a call box next to the exterior doors is available to anyone who needs to speak with an officer. Officers are able to meet in person but will adopt social distancing as needed.

The MFPD will not fingerprint the public for licenses such as concealed carry permits, employment applications, or other documents until further notice. Requesting copies of police reports can be done remotely by following instructions on the department’s webpage. In-person requests won’t be taken for the time being.

The MFPD urges people not to call the department to ask for updates regarding the virus and instead encourages residents to visit the Texas Division of Emergency Management website.

While all first responders are taking cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic, services offered vary from city to city. The public is urged to check organization websites before making a non-emergency call or in-person visit.

For more on how COVID-19 is affecting the Highland Lakes, visit the coronavirus resources webpage.