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Erie Mayor Joe Schember’s administration is currently working on potential coronavirus responses for the city government that could soon see some employees working from home.
The city might also establish a quarantine area for working police officers and firefighters who might have been exposed to the virus.
Schember said the plans are preliminary, but city officials are consulting with the Erie County Department of Health regarding a number of possible contingency plans involving city workers.
“We’re relying heavily on the county’s expertise to give us direction,” Schember said. “We’re still working through a lot of things.”
City officials have been meeting regularly to discuss coronavirus-related contingencies, he said.
City employees are already being advised to avoid shaking hands with others and to stay home if they don’t feel well.
“I’ve stopped shaking hands myself, which is hard for me,” said Schember, 69, who is still recovering from a Jan. 30 procedure for prostate cancer and begins radiation treatments soon. “But I know I’m weaker and I’m sleeping a lot more than I’m used to, which is why I’ve stopped shaking hands.”
If a coronavirus case is confirmed in Erie County, which Schember said is probably inevitable, the city will push forward with alternate plans for some employees, Schember said.
“Probably everyone in my office for example can work remotely,” Schember said. “The issue is police and fire because they can’t do that.”
Erie Fire Chief Joe Walko, who is also coordinator of the city’s emergency management, said city officials have talked about establishing a quarantine area for working police and firefighters at the South Central Station, 3507 Peach St.
“That would be a working space for any police officer or firefighter who might come into contact with an infected person,” Walko said.
“They would be quarantined there for a period of time,” Walko said.
Fire rigs would be moved from that location to the Central Fire Station near West 12th and Sassafras streets “so we don’t lose manpower,” Walko said.
City officials previously said precautionary measures are already in place for both police officers and firefighters, including providing officers and firefighters with protective masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other gear.
Allegheny Health Network is developing a COVID-19 test that could soon be available at its hospitals, including Saint Vincent Hospital.
Erie hospitals currently send samples for COVID-19 testing to the Pennsylvania Department of Health laboratory outside of Philadelphia.
“We hope to have commercial testing available in-house in the next one to two weeks,” AHN officials said in a statement.
“We will start at the AHN lab in Pittsburgh and then expand to (AHN’s) local hospitals,” an AHN spokeswoman said.
Patients who currently undergo testing are receiving results in about 24 hours, said Wayne Jones, D.O., Saint Vincent’s medical director of emergency medicine.
UPMC has also been working on its own COVID-19 test. No timeline has been announced for its availability.
Erie City Mission vows to continue providing free meals but could make changes in how they are distributed based on the new coronavirus.
Mission officials will discuss the matter Friday during a leadership retreat, said Darrell Smith, the mission’s chief operating officer.
“We will meet to possibly determine if we start doing bagged lunches instead of having everyone eat together,” Smith said. “We are reaching out to the Erie County Department of Health and listening to what they have to say.”
Erie City Mission, 1017 French St., provides about 250 meals a day to hungry men, women and children.
It has already installed additional hand sanitizing stations, adopted new cleaning procedures and instructed staff to work from home if they are sick.
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