Slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus is top priority for many during this strange and different time. Pratt County EMS and Pratt County Dispatch play major roles in providing emergency assistance safely to the Pratt community and surrounding areas.


Pratt County EMS director Scott Harris offers some simple advice to those concerned about their health and loves ones during this time.


"The biggest thing is just going to be to follow the stay at home order,"Harris said. "The best thing you can do to protect yourself is not to go out if you don’t have to. That’s why social distancing is so important right now. The person you’re standing next to at Wal-Mart could be a carrier but not have any symptoms."


Over the past couple of weeks, Harris, along with other local, state and regional leaders, have been having daily meetings and briefings to make sure a cohesive plan is in place to deal with the coronavirus as it spreads in the United States and in Kansas.


Locally so far, however, the volume of EMS calls has decreased over the past two weeks and is down about 20-25 percent statewide, according to a recent statement from the Kansas Board of EMS.


Pratt area residents may rest assured that the local EMS has been preparing for any local outbreak well before this issue became a focal point in Kansas.


"Very early, we began ordering more personal protective equipment, at least what we could get our hands on, as well as other supplies that tend to get used more during times of greater call volume," said Harris.


Pratt County Emergency Management has also been a partner in helping to ensure that EMS staff will have access to protective gear, if needed.


A few policies have also been changed to ensure the safety of EMS staff, whose good health is critical in the event that coronavirus cases become more widespread in the area.


"We have gone to 100 percent masks on calls, regardless of what the call is. It’s as much to protect the citizens as it is to protect my people, due to the nature of this virus being able to spread from someone without symptoms," Harris said, "We have also gone to a policy of sending only one person in initially to assess for coronavirus symptoms, when calls don’t sound imminently life threatening."


As further reassurance to local residents, EMS staff decontaminate the ambulance after all runs, following guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control.


Local emergency dispatchers are presently screening callers who have possible coronavirus symptoms, per request of Pratt County EMS.


Pratt County Dispatch Director Walt Stockwell said it takes just a bit more time, but dispatchers are now required to ask a few more questions of callers needing assistance, for the safety of everyone involved pertaining to coronavirus directives.


"The biggest problem we are having is the number of calls coming in to 911 that are not emergency related," Stockwell said. "Calls seeking coronavirus information and any non-emergency calls should be made to 620-672-5551."


Stockwell and Harris emphasized that the main purpose of 911 is to address life-threatening emergencies. Harris also encouraged local residents to call their primary physician or the Pratt County Health Department for non-life threatening issues.


Harris said those with questions about the coronavirus disease should call 211, a service operated by the United Way which can answer general questions about COVID-19 and also direct callers to other resources, based on their questions.


"We are doing everything possible to ensure our staff is ready to respond when needed," Harris said.


Stockwell said National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is April 12-18, 2020 and he hopes the Pratt public will take a moment to remember the dedication and importance that dispatchers play in public safety.


According to The Journal of Emergency Dispatch, all emergency telecommunicators serve as a vital link between community and fire, medical and law enforcement agencies. Acting as a critical lifeline to other first responders, these unsung everyday heroes are always there to answer the call. Most dispatchers routinely handle calls and call volumes at levels that would be utterly overwhelming to anyone else. [The Journal of Emergency Dispatch, Thank a Dispatcher, Feb. 15, 2017]