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SHALIMAR — As of Monday, Okaloosa County had a sufficient supply of highly treasured N95 respirator masks for first responders and healthcare providers, according to county Public Safety Director Patrick Maddox.
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"The county has over 1,300 N95 masks with several thousand still on order," Maddox said in response to emailed questions from the Daily News.
He said the masks are received via the county’s normal supply chain, orders to the state Emergency Operations Center and assistance from other sources.
The masks are distributed to emergency medical services’ crews, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers, he said.
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Our first responders and #EMS are kittted up and ready for action against #covid-19! Do your part by staying home and isolating yourself to the greatest extent possible until this coronavirus pandemic has passed. #okaloosacovid #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/Oh3n8Kznep— Okaloosa County (@OkaloosaCounty) March 29, 2020
The county has "sufficient numbers of N95 masks to operate at this time, but in Florida alone, all counties and health departments are requesting PPE (personal protective equipment) gear to protect their first responders and supplement inventories for healthcare providers and assisted living facilities," Maddox said.
"All states who have cases, and the international community, are seeking this equipment as well. We were fortunate to have a supply in place before the outbreak became critical and ordered supplies early to be able operate efficiently, protect our teams, and supply our partners."
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On Sunday, however, County Commissioner Graham Fountain confirmed that four county EMS employees were in quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus.
Each of those employees is registered with the Department of Health and is quarantining at home, Fountain said.
On Monday, Maddox said the four employees had not been wearing N95 masks because the patients they were treating had screened negative during call-taker and on-site evaluations.
The workers began quarantining immediately upon notification of a previous patient testing positive for the virus, he said.
"Dates will not be disclosed to protect the medical information and identities of the patients and employees," said Maddox, who also said the employees have been tested for the virus but the results were still pending.
"There are no other crew members isolating as a result of patient contact," he said. "An additional employee, who has no known contacts with any COVID-19 positive patients, is feeling ill, self-isolating and has been tested. Results pending."
Maddox said protocols have been initiated to re-use N95 masks that are not visibly soiled or overly damp/wet via manufacturer guidance and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing for conservation of resources when necessary.
"Further, other minimum contact protocols are in place in order to expose fewer medics to patients in an effort to use less PPE gear," he said.
Last week, the county began receiving numerous cloth masks donated by local community members.
Guidance from the CDC allows for cloth masks to be used if surgical masks are not available during appropriate contacts, according to Maddox.
A photo the county tweeted on Sunday showed five county EMS workers wearing donated cloth masks.
The photo "is meant to demonstrate a partnership with the community who cared so much for our safety, and worked so hard to provide them for us," Maddox said.