Malheur County eyes stockpiling more personal protective equipment

Malheur County Emergency Services Director Lt. Rich Harriman loads a box of personal protective equipment into a trailer last week. Harriman said the county has a solid supply of protective equipment for the time being. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

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VALE – Officials say the local supply of personal protective equipment for first responders and members of the health care community is adequate but warn a surge of COVID-19 virus cases could quickly deplete the stockpile.

“I don’t know I’d say we have all we need. If something big hits we could run out quick,” said Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe.

Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton also said his department is “not short” of PPE.

“But we don’t have a huge abundance. If we were to get a lot more cases here we would be in trouble,” said Leighton.

Steven Romero, Ontario police chief, said his officers have a good supply of PPE.

“We have what we need to respond to anything right now, but how long it would be sustainable is to be determined,” said Romero.

Personal protective equipment consists of gloves, gowns, masks, goggles and face shields and while some are in abundance other items are still hard to acquire, said Lt. Rich Harriman, the county emergency services manager.

“Gowns and face shields are not coming as frequently as other stuff. Face shields are far and few between now,” said Harriman last week.

Harriman said as of Friday the county stockpiled 2,800 surgical masks, 1,520 N-95 respiratory masks, 92 gowns and 104 face shields.

“I don’t get as nearly as many gowns as M-95s. A full PPE is one of everything, so it doesn’t do us any good to have 5,000 M-95s and no gowns,” he said.

The county, he said, receives PPE deliveries once a week – and can receive more in an emergency –ordered through the state’s Office of Emergency Management. The supply packets – dubbed “pushes” – are collected at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training facility in Salem.

Once delivered to Vale, Harriman uses a priority system to allocate the equipment. Last week, he said, he delivered a sizeable supply of PPE to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario.

“We are conserving it for medical staff and first responders. So, for example, if a bus driver for the Council on Aging wants one, they might remain low on the list,” said Harriman.

He said the equipment he receives from the state is “ready to go.”

“It is all good and new and, in the box, sealed up,” said Harriman.

Harriman said the county, with only three positive COVID-19 virus cases as of Saturday, April 11 has been lucky.

“We are not burning through the PPE,” he said. “We have enough for now and as long as it keeps coming.”

That could all change though, he said.

“We are preparing for it to take off and hoping it doesn’t, but I think everyone is set up,” he said.

If the county is hit with a surge of COVID-19 cases, he said, resources could be drained fast.

Harriman used the situation in some areas of Idaho as an example of how fast the virus can hit and consume resources.

“If we end up like Blaine County, Idaho, then it will never be enough. Keeping up with it would be a challenge,” he said.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].