The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) is once again exploring options for getting more personal protective equipment (PPE) to first responders as COVID-19 cases continue to spike, EMA Executive Director Troy Morgan told county commissioners Thursday night.
While the Jefferson County Health Department supplies local clinics, hospitals, businesses and other public-facing institutions, EMA helps make sure firefighters, EMS technicians and sheriff’s deputies and jailers have access to protective equipment while serving the community. EMA also helps provides PPE for medical staff or businesses if the health department cannot meet their needs for any reason, Morgan said.
Indiana State Department of Health data showed 133 new COVID-19 cases recorded in Jefferson County on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the overall total to 1,040 as of Friday afternoon. Meeting exclusively over Zoom for the first time in several months, commissioners heard Morgan address concerns about the upcoming cost and demand for PPE with rising infection rates.
Morgan said that while EMA had plenty of supplies stocked at the Jefferson County 4-H Fairgrounds for the time being, he was concerned about increased demand drying up supply lines and driving up prices for face masks to where they were in the early spring.
For example, surgical masks cost $2 in April and May but that price has declined to about 45 cents in recent months. The higher quality N95 masks, meanwhile, are still $2 to $3 each, he said. The county could soon be paying those prices again and have a harder time getting PPE in large supply.
“Right now we’re doing OK. I don’t have hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands on hand of anything, but I’ve got enough to keep ahead of the demand,” Morgan said. “…We’re doing something every day to try to get ahead, but I just don’t know how far ahead of the game we’re going to be once we start to see the difficulty in getting that stuff again.”
Local EMAs receive much of that equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which supplies PPE to individual state governments. Morgan said he plans to take a trip to Indianapolis on Monday to pick up another load.
While masks are the most widely requested and used piece of equipment, gloves are still nearly impossible to obtain through the national stockpile. Morgan said he ordered a shipment of gloves in March but still hasn’t received any. The county’s supply of gloves is currently “really, really low,” he said.
“I told the commissioners, just to exaggerate my point, ‘If you gave me a million dollars and said to go buy as many as you can, I don’t think we’d have any more tomorrow than we do today,’ ” Morgan said Friday.
Luckily the county’s supply on surface — and supply of hand sanitizer, face shields and eye protection — is still quite high, he said. EMA still has plenty of storage space at the fairgrounds unless it gets a massive shipment and is currently trying to identify future needs.
“We’re trying to identify what we think our need is going to be and try and get those now before those prices go back up,” Morgan said.
In other business:
— The commissioners granted a request by Administrative Assistant Sarah Morgan to shut down courthouse offices from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 for an employee-funded holiday break. Employees normally hold a Christmas party each year during that time but due to COVID-19, will only be doing door prizes, virtual games and holding an extended lunch hour, she said.
— Commission President David Bramer said the Jefferson County Plan Commission will review the new comprehensive plan at a meeting at the 4-H Fairgrounds community building on Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m.