Dispatchers screening calls for COVID-19 symptoms

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ST. LOUIS – The next time you dial 911, be prepared to answer some questions about COVID-19. Dispatchers are screening calls for people who might have the coronavirus.

“We need to know these things to keep our officers safe,” said St. Louis Police Dispatch Manager Ronda Butler.

Questions might include whether the caller has a fever or cough, has been out of the country, or has been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Butler said an individual who displays symptoms of COVID-19 won’t be ignored. The matter, she said, can be handled in another way to ensure everyone stays safe.

“Depending on the call, the officer can handle the issue over the phone,” she said. “We do have call-screening officers in my office that can handle police reports as well.
Officers who do respond to calls involving possible COVID-19 would be flagged to wear protective gear and take other precautions.

The COVID questions add an additional layer to a wide variety of calls already handled by emergency communications.

Shootings, cuttings, missing persons, car break-ins, assaults, and burglaries represent a fraction of the calls that come in to 911 dispatchers.

It is a taxing, trying job that is often overlooked by the public.

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week recognizes the work of dispatchers.

“We take it for granted a lot of times. People call 911. These dispatchers are the first of the first responders. They’re dealing with the citizens that call in. Then they’re also dealing with the police, the fire, and the EMS calls as well. They’re the lifeline for police officers in particular,” Lt. Blaise Peluso said.

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