Health officials discuss coronavirus preparedness

Mar 10, 2020

Public Health officials in Plymouth and Norfolk county met at the Middleborough Town Hall on Feb. 11 for a table-top exercise to gauge preparedness for a potential coronavirus outbreak in the area. On March 10, John J. Burke, the Fire Chief of Sandwich, gave a presentation to highlight the strengths and weaknesses observed in February’s exercise.

In terms of notifying the public, Burke said that the majority of communities have a mass notification system in place to alert residents to a potential incident, and that school notification systems offer a good backup.  

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One thing that was listed as needing improvement in the evaluation was the fact that each community needs to have a clear understanding of who the Public Information Officer is, as well as a plan for distributing information on social media. 

One way to improve this would be to have the officer participate in drills in which he or she would be responsible for responding to mock messages. 

During the exercise, health officials showed an immediate knowledge of what personal protective equipment would be needed in their communities.

Overall Burke said that Wareham was “ahead of the curve” going into the exercise in February, as the town already had a plan in place at the time.

Wareham’s Director of Emergency Management Patrick MacDonald participated in the exercise. He said that it was beneficial because the coronavirus “became very relevant, very quick” in the time since the exercise. 

The exercise also allowed him to narrow in on specific details that might not have been accounted for in preplanning for a potential outbreak.

MacDonald said that the town has already designated a location to administer countermeasures in the event of a disease outbreak, but that the exercise highlighted the potential need for portable lights outside of this location.

In general, MacDonald said that the town is relatively well-prepared, and that Wareham has “some of the best first responders, and professionals in the business.”