Entire Haines Shipping Department Tests Positive for COVID | KHNS Radio

The Haines 911 dispatch office is located in the Public Safety building at 315 Haines Highway (Jillian Rogers/KHNS)

All three of Haines’ emergency dispatchers tested positive for COVID-19, but officials say they chose to stay on the job anyway. As KHNS’ Corinne Smith reports, they respond to emergency calls from inside the public safety building when people call 911.

Haines Borough Director Annette Kreitzer said three staff at the dispatch office tested positive for COVID-19 last week. She was alerted on Tuesday January 11 of the situation.

“Of course, our first inclination is to protect the health of employees and to protect the health of the public,” Kreitzer said.

The office responds to 911 calls for police and emergency services throughout the Borough of Haines and provides telephone and radio coordination between staff during calls for service. They also manage Haines Jail, maintain call logs and department reports, and process requests for public records.

Haines Police Chief Heath Scott was out of town at the time, delayed from returning due to wintry weather. But Kreitzer says she consulted with him and the dispatch supervisor on how to proceed.

“First of all, they are essential workers,” she said. “You can’t just ask someone to come into the street and do the police or fire dispatch, it just doesn’t work that way. And so what you have to try to do is figure out if they feel good enough to work. And if they are, we have to quarantine them and make sure they have no interaction with other staff and with the public. And so it was set up.

Kreitzer says the team has volunteered to continue working so that 911 calls are answered locally

“I just want the public to know that we didn’t ask them to keep working,” she said. “We made it clear that it was your choice. You don’t have to work. You know, it was up to them to volunteer to stay and work. And that’s what they did. »

Kreitzer says the three COVID-infected employees felt well enough to work, but declined to elaborate on their condition. She says they have been instructed to go straight home and self-isolate after working hours.

Haines Police Chief Heath Scott declined to be interviewed. But in an email to KHNS, he wrote that he had full confidence in dispatchers who are isolated in an office, asked to wear masks and clean their workstations before the dispatcher’s next shift. He said they closed the office to the public and asked residents to call instead and avoid stopping by the department in person except in an emergency.

Chief Scott said he is proud of the department and “they understand how important this work is and they accept this responsibility without complaining.

Kreitzer said if employees have decided not to work or are unable to because of illness, the borough may direct 911 calls to state dispatchers in Fairbanks. Haines has at least one sworn police officer who is trained.

“If they hadn’t volunteered to work, that’s when we would have looked to other agencies,” Kreitzer said. “Or (we) would have brought in, we only have I believe, another person who is trained as a dispatcher, who is a police officer. And we would have brought him in to serve in the expedition station.

Kreitzer says working-from-home dispatchers weren’t an option because of the software and communications technology needed in the public safety building.

When asked what lessons have been learned going forward, Kreitzer said his office would be better prepared to take appropriate action to mitigate the spread of COVID more quickly.

“Well, we don’t really know how the first case started. And so it’s hard to say, oh, we would do this differently, we would do this differently,” Kreitzer said. “But I think there’s a good awareness of how quickly things can change if someone gets sick. And I think we would probably communicate a lot faster next time.

Kreitzer says Haines police and emergency services employees and volunteers are routinely being tested for COVID and are monitoring for any new transmission of COVID.

She says the Borough of Haines does not require COVID vaccinations or masking for employees, but they are recommended.

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