PITTSBURG, Kan. — At the end of this week’s Pittsburg City Commission meeting, city staff and commissioners discussed recent issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, including positive cases of COVID-19 within the Pittsburg Fire Department and Gov. Laura Kelly’s order to wear masks in public areas.
"We have several employees across departments that have been tested for COVID," said City Manager Daron Hall. "Right now our focus has been on the fire department."
Hall noted that the city would normally have about 35 firefighter positions, but because of the hiring freeze due to the pandemic, three of those positions are currently vacant. Out of the 32 firefighters the city currently employs, seven had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, Hall said.
"Several of those firefighters are already halfway through their quarantine, so very few of them have symptoms. Obviously there’s a lot of different kinds of symptoms with this and a lot of people don’t know what they are, but I think for us, we’ve always been testing at least once a day and usually twice a day the firefighters because they have to go out on the EMT calls, and we want to make sure that they’re symptom-free and that they don’t have this when they’re going out to try to help people," he said.
"So it’s been an interesting week. I want to acknowledge the chief’s leadership. He’s stepped up and done a great job, and his entire department has understood what’s being asked of them, and they’ve taken it on, and hopefully we’ve got it contained."
Commissioner Larry Fields asked if it was necessary for firefighters to respond along with EMTs to every emergency medical call, considering the number of confirmed positive cases in their department.
"Would it be wise to possibly abstain from doing that during the pandemic?" Fields asked.
"Well, without creating a panic, we’ve already asked them to stand down on the number of EMT calls at this point, only because we think that the other EMT service is adequate," Hall said. "Now, if it’s something critical, they’re going to go. If there’s two cars stuck together and they need the Jaws of Life, they’re going to be there. But yeah, we’ve asked them to scrutinize the calls that they go on."
Commissioner Chuck Munsell, who, along with Mayor Dawn McNay, asked Hall for an update on the fire department, also said he’d gotten calls about the possibility of the city passing a local ordinance or making its own rules about wearing masks.
"I explained to the callers, that’s the governor’s decision, and the county commissioners follow her decision," Munsell said, and Hall agreed.
"There’s a lot of communities across the Midwest, depending on what state you’re in, that have health departments," Hall said. "In Pittsburg, Kansas we do not have a health department, we do not have a health officer. We take our lead from the county. They’ve done an exceptional job, and sometimes I’m thankful we don’t have a health department so I can live with their decision and not have to make it, but that power rests with the county, that’s given to them by the state."
City Attorney Henry Menghini also said that Pittsburg should be following the recommendations and guidelines of the county government.
"Right now the way our state statutes are, it’s really the county who makes the decisions for the City of Pittsburg in this regard, and I know they do take input from the city staff, and I think they have done a good job and I think they will continue to do so," Menghini said.
Commissioner Patrick O’Bryan said that people should follow Gov. Kelly’s order and wear masks when in public areas.
"I personally would like to encourage people to wear the masks," he said. "You’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for the people that you’re speaking to and you’re around, and all the people that they come into contact with."
Munsell echoed O’Bryan’s comments.
"You know, it’s everyone’s responsibility and for us to get back, whenever that might be, to normal life," Munsell said. "As little a thing as wearing a mask helps a long way to get back, and why people don’t, I have no idea."