Delta Junction-area first responders and health-care providers have formed an organization to oversee the community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Delta COVID-19 Incident Management Team helps emergency services and local governments coordinate efforts to keep the coronavirus from spreading in the area – and to help control the local rumor mill.
Michael Paschall says he and other Delta-area first-responders had been talking in recent weeks about the need to bring together an organization of the players that would be called on when the novel coronavirus showed up. He says they soon realized the organization could serve another important purpose by tamping down rumors, like those that were flying around town in the run-up to the April 2nd announcement that a Delta resident had tested positive for COVID-19.
“That’s probably at the top of the list – to make sure that local information is out to the local community that is accurate and not based upon speculation,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Paschall is an assistant chief for a local volunteer fire department, and he heads up the Delta COVID-19 Incident Management Team. The group meets twice weekly to exchange information and consider concerns ranging from the mundane, such as where to buy respirator masks, to the other extreme, like whether local clinics and first-responders could handle a worst-case scenario.
“What happens if this gets to be a true pandemic locally?” he said. “If there are 20 cases, how do we manage them? How do we deal with transportation issues, quarantine issues? What happens if you have to transport them to the hospital in Fairbanks?”
So far, there’s only that one case of COVID-19 in Delta, but Paschall and others consider the second to be that of a Fairbanks man who also tested positive earlier this month after he got off his shift at the Pogo gold mine, 38 miles northeast of town. He says now that Pogo has reported other cases of workers who’ve tested positive, the Delta COVID-19 team has focused more attention on the possibility that the disease could spread from the mine, which employs about 300 people, not including vendors or contractors. That’s why the team’s city-government representative worked out an arrangement with Pogo officials to haul trash from the mine to the city landfill less often, as a precaution.
“So there was less possibility of an active virus possibly remaining in the waste coming from the mine,” Paschall said.
The COVID-19 team meetings also provided a forum for discussion of such issues as how EMS personnel can safely transport infected victims. And for representatives of the three local clinics, including one on Fort Greely, to exchange information on such issues as the number of coronavirus tests they’ve conducted.
“It’s the team’s role to get people to do the things that we need to do to keep the community safe,” he said.
Paschall says he shares the team’s actions and concerns with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Division spokesperson Jeremy Zidek says agency officials really appreciate the work that local groups like the one in Delta are doing.
“Delta Junction standing up an incident management team is a great thing,” he said. “They’re able to coordinate their operations, share resources and really communicate with the public with a unified voice.”
Zidek says many Alaska communities have established similar organizations in response to the pandemic. And he says those kinds of groups work especially well in small towns.
“Here in Alaska, we’re very fortunate in that we can get to know people before the disaster occurs,” he said. “We’re able to work together, and that results in better outcomes for people.”
Zidek says that kind of familiarity and coordination is essential in responding to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.