Monday, April 27, 2020

Public Safety workers in SC now know if COVID-19 patients live at addresses they're called to

When police and first responders now answer a call for service across South Carolina, they can know if the address they are responding to involves a patient with COVID-19.
Police officials say they've had to rely on dispatchers asking callers if there is anyone at the location who may be contagious, carrying the virus.
Now, they have data provided by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to also help them with assurance.
“Since the beginning, we have been screening the callers making sure that we have basic information going into an address but now that we are able to have that specific information about a positive test there, that’s definitely helpful," said Cpl. Thomas Vest with Myrtle Beach Police.
The 911/Healthcare Provider database was rolled out on April 9 according to DHEC's EMS and Trauma Director Rob Wronski.
"This did not happen in a vacuum, it literally almost happened overnight," said Wronski before DHEC board members. "This project is something that in a hurry it would have taken us six months to accomplish."
The web-based application is being circulated to county dispatch centers and authorized officials throughout the state that agree to a data use plan, according to Wronski.
"What this system does is truly protect as much of the privacy of our citizens as possible," Wronski said. “A dispatcher or someone who is authorized to access this system can simply type in an address and if a positive case has been reported at that address within the last 14 days, it will come up as a red dot on the map."
Before this, law enforcement was struggling to amass this information, according to DHEC board chair Mark Elam.
Elam said during the meeting that he had heard from sheriffs across the state since March 18 asking for information to pinpoint patients who may spread coronavirus to officers and deputies.
“We’re very concerned that the officers will come into contact with something, and of course, could get sick or die," said Surfside Beach Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann. "I am very proud of the officers here who have stayed on the frontlines. They have demonstrated great courage in dealing with this."
As of Friday, there are 11 reported cases in the zip code within Surfside Beach town limits. DHEC officials say that SPD had no need to access the data yet, but other departments have.
“Every agency that is working in this is working hard, and this is just one more tool that allows us to keep our officers safe," said Cpl. Vest.
As of Friday morning, DHEC reports that Myrtle Beach police and Horry County police have searched nearly 110 street addresses to confirm if an area they are responding to has someone there with coronavirus. Georgetown County dispatch has recorded 50 street address searches and North Myrtle Beach police have requested 33.
"It's just another tool that we have in the toolbox to protect our officers, to protect the public and help the public protect themselves," Chief Hofmann said.
DHEC reports the database has launched in 40 counties across the state with 933 authorized users. DHEC coordinates with EMD to hold daily telebriefings with county officials across the state every morning at 10 a.m.
These daily telebriefings provide a clear line of communication between county officials, EMD and DHEC, and the 911 database is regularly discussed during these calls, as well as on an individual basis, to ensure county officials have the information and resources they request.
The six counties without are Allendale, Bamberg, Dillon, Calhoun, McCormick and Lancaster counties. A DHEC spokespersons says those counties are in the process of coming online with the system. Different organizations and counties have different system requirements within their 911 systems, so, due to there not being a “one size fits all” approach for this project, each organization and county is handled individually to comply with their system.
There are no plans currently for the system to be accessible remotely by individual responders. DHEC officials say the security of the system and the data contained within it are of the utmost importance.

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