MUSCATINE, Iowa—As the dispatch center for all of Muscatine County, MUSCOM responds to all kinds of emergencies before anyone else, making sure residents get the services they need right away. As COVID-19 becomes a concern for county residents, MUSCOM has adapted to ensure they can send appropriate care to people who have symptoms of the virus.
911 Communications Director Chris Jasper explained that for the past month, MUSCOM has instituted a new protocol to identify callers who may have COVID-19 and pass this information along to first responders, allowing them to take precautions to keep themselves safe. “In accordance with a guideline set out by the Iowa Department of Public Health, approximately three to four weeks ago, MUSCOM started screening ambulance calls using an Emerging Infectious Disease Tool that is included with our Medical Priority Dispatch System,” Jasper stated. “This screening asks callers a series of questions about any travel or contact they may have had with any potentially infected persons. This information is then relayed to first responders so they can take appropriate precautions before they enter a person’s home,” he added.
Along with implementing this new screening procedure, MUSCOM has also worked with area police and fire departments to make sure they understand the precautions they have taken for dealing with COVID-19. “Some of the agencies we dispatch for have put measures in place that they will handle non-essential law enforcement calls via phone, if able, rather than sending officers into homes,” elaborated Jasper. “If a call meets these guidelines then the dispatcher will explain this to callers before they hang up and then they can expect a call back from an officer or deputy.”
In all cases though, Jasper emphasized that MUSCOM will continue to run and take care of calls throughout the COVID-19 outbreak: “MUSCOM is still operating and will continue to operate for the needs of our community. The safety of our first responders is of great importance to us and we will continue to alter operations and follow any guidelines that are set out by the CDC and IDPH. I am in constant communications with our agencies, Public Health and the State of Iowa 911 program and will make any changes necessary as time goes by.”
Jasper also shared that in the event that dispatchers in Muscatine become unwell, MUSCOM does have a mutual aid agreement set up to work with another dispatch center. “We do have several measures in place so if our dispatch center becomes incapacitated or we had limited staff, we have a backup 911 center that is able to take our calls for us.”
In the days and weeks ahead, Jasper reminds Muscatine to always call 911 in an emergency and to trust that MUSCOM will answer the call. “For information regarding COVID-19, he encourages people to contact the Iowa Department of Public Health using their 211 COVID-19 hotline or 1-800-244-7431.