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Local First-Responders Facing Shortages of Protective Gear
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:06AM / Monday, March 30, 2020
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First-responders are in dire need of appropriate masks and gloves. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local first-responders are in dire need of personal protective gear as the number of COVID-19 cases has risen by more than 500 percent in the past week. 
 
"The [Emergency Operations Center] has gotten nothing from the state," Amalio Jusino, communications coordinator for the North Berkshire center, said on Friday. "We've gotten local donations and we're helping each other agency to agency."
 
Pittsfield Fire Chief Thomas Sammons told Spectrum News last week that supplies were "critically low" putting first-responders at risk. 
 
Jusino, co-chairman of the North Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee, said the group has submitted orders to the state to supply its operations center with masks, gloves and coverings. 
 
"We did get some hand sanitizers and some latex gloves that we can't do anything with," he said, noting latex can't be used in medical situations because of possible reactions. 
 
A letter sent to the state "generated some conversation," but not much else Jusino said. 
 
The letter provided to iBerkshires was blunt in the region's need for supplies. 
 
"I find it appalling that we have not heard anything or seen a delivery of our PPE request to date," Jusino wrote on behalf of the EOC. "This is a Regional request for [eight] communities within Berkshire County, an area that borders several counties with some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country. Some of our agencies have ZERO inventory remaining for some items and very little for others.   
 
"To leave those at the highest risk of exposure with no protection is disgraceful."
 
State officials have acknowledged difficulty in getting protective gear and medical equipment such as ventilators. Massachusetts has gotten about only 17 percent of what it needs from the Strategic National Stockpile and, without federal coordination, states have been jockeying to find limited suppliers on the open market.  
 
Gov. Charlie Baker has made his frustrations with the process known to federal COVID-19 task force and asked that the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinate supply efforts. 
 
"I think it's fair to say that most governors, at this point, have expressed concerns with the entire issue associated with the acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment," Baker said on Saturday. "We are not alone in that space."
 
Jusino said the lack of PPE is becoming more critical because emergency medical technicians are using masks and gloves on every call. It is less of need so for police and firefighters, but there can still be instances when they, too, require protection. 
 
"The recommendation is to use PPE on every call because the person-to-person spread is so prevalent, we need masks for everything," Jusino said. 
 
The novel coronavirus is highly contagious and can spread through touch or through the air, is which why health officials are strongly urging 6-foot social distancing. The Berkshires has a high number of cases per capita and saw positive tests for the coronavirus jump from 26 to 150 in a week. Five people in the county have died. 
 
The operations center is accepting donations of surgical or N95 masks, non-latex gloves, face shields and disposable gowns. 
 
"We want to make sure we're doing things that are correct for our employees," Jusino said. "The end result is we will have first-responders exposed and not available."
 
Some supplies and donations have come into the county and Jusino said North County has asked Pittsfield to share some Tyvek suits it received. 
 
"It's robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "We're surviving in typical Western Mass fashion."
 
Contact the Northern Berkshire Emergency Operations Center at 413-662-3614 or nbcovid@gmail.com.
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