Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, county emergency response teams have refined their approaches to the pandemic.
The largest problems in late 2020/early 2021 was figuring out the logistics of vaccination sites and a lack of personal protection equipment (PPE). Now, in early 2022, departments are struggling with staff shortages.
Jeff Wilson, emergency manager of Genesee County, said their main role was to assist the Genesee County Health Department. The emergency management department plays a huge role in helping municipalities and other entities, such as retirement homes and hospitals, obtain PPE and communicate their needs with the state and county.
They were especially busy when vaccines were first distributed in late 2020 and early 2021, setting up tents outside, coordinating volunteers and health professionals, and organizing the flow of cars.
“We were out all last winter in the freezing cold at vaccine sites,” Wilson said, adding that they learned a lot from running these sites from logistics, dealing with weather and mobility barriers.
For the last year, Wilson said the GCHD has been “on a roll” with running testing and vaccination sites.
The emergency response team’s work winded down once the demand for vaccines decreased, but now, due to the omicron and rising COVID-19 cases, he’s gotten busier. Like many other industries, they’re dealing with staffing shortages from the pandemic and other various reasons.
The colder weather brings other problems. Wilson has been coordinating with homeless shelters in Flint to find warm places where the homeless population can spend the night. These shelters are also dealing with staffing shortages.
Steve McGee, Holly Village fire chief and manager of the fire EMS desk of the Emergency Operations Center for Oakland County, said before COVID-19 spread across the world, Oakland County’s Emergency Preparedness Department already had processes and plans laid out in the event of a pandemic. It contains information on obtaining supplies, where certain departments would be needed and more. The department utilized the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to run communications.
At the beginning of the pandemic, emergency response teams divided the county into five divisions with dedicated leaders in fire and EMS services. They had daily meetings and updates.
“Policies were developed county-wide with our Medical Control Board providing the latest information and adapting our treatment methods based on their research. Communication was key and everyone participated to the fullest extent,” McGee said.
The Oakland County Health Department continues to lead the county in COVID response.
“Their plan seemed very complete and included the appropriate practices they had anticipated,” McGee said.
Nearly a dozen departments, including the county executive, medical control, fire departments/EMS, police departments, finance departments, materials handling, the incident management team, communications support teams, hospitals and more, had to refine their processes based on the “ever-changing information and amount of patient’s needs,” McGee said.
“I was surprised at how well the agencies all worked and communicated with one another. Additionally, fire departments from our area sent ambulances to the southern part of the county when their staffing levels fell to dangerous levels. The cooperation was, and continues to be, amazing,” he said.
Fire and EMS departments had to adapt to personnel and equipment shortages, as well as deal with the need for mutual aid.
“Initially, the biggest hurdle was the shortage/lack of proper PPE. Further hurdles included lack of hospital beds and places to take our critical patients,” he said.
When asked if the county made any permanent changes due to the pandemic, he said these processes have been refined and they have a large stockpile of PPE available when needed.
COVID cases and deaths as of Jan. 12
82,639 cases, 1,425 deaths
232,417 cases, 3,244 deaths