Dispatcher Justin Kyremes-Parks fields calls for service at the University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center, one of three centers for the Chagrin Valley Dispatch. The operation, which serves 31 communities including the City of Solon and some Chagrin Valley communities, remains on Level One lockdown this week and is seeing a spike in 911 calls related to the coronavirus epidemic.

Chagrin Valley Dispatch is the “first of the first responders,” said Solon resident Nick DiCicco, who serves as director. The regional emergency call center was on level-one lockdown this week to ensure the health of its employees during the COVID-19 state of emergency in Ohio.

“Without a staff we can’t dispatch the fire department or police department,” Mr. DiCicco said.

CVD has continuity of operations out of its three centers, but is doing its due diligence to remain safe, he continued, so as to serve its 31 communities.

Since the coronavirus pandemic surfaced earlier this year, the staff has been inundated with 911 calls, he said, resulting in an increase of about 19 percent so far this month.

CVD serves the City of Solon and many of the surrounding communities, including Chagrin Falls, South Russell, Moreland Hills, Hunting Valley,Orange Village, Bedford and Maple Heights, among many others.

The dispatch center answers about 700,000 calls annually between its three centers.

Of the 786 EMS calls from March 8-14, 12 involved COVID-19.

A week later, from March 15-22, of the 848 EMS, 142 were COVID-19 related.

“People are panicking with all the social media that is out there, so we are seeing an increased volume of calls where people feel they have the virus because of all the hype,” he said.

“We are overrunning not only the EMS systems, but the hospitals,” Mr. DiCicco said.

Residents experiencing any flu-like symptoms should call their doctor first, he said, and not the call center.

Calls to 911 should be for true medical emergencies such as chest pains, trouble breathing or trauma, Mr. DiCicco noted.

“If you feel you have COVID-19, there is nothing a hospital can do for you right now,” Mr. DiCicco said. “If you feel you have the symptoms, start with your primary care physician.”

He said people cannot get tested for the virus without a prescription from their doctor.

The dispatch center is also getting inundated with people calling with questions regarding the recent stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Mike DeWine on Sunday.

“People are asking, ‘can I do this or that?’ Mr. DiCicco said. “We don’t have the answers.”

Mr. DiCicco said dispatch is screening calls to be able to relay necessary information to first responders. “We tell them (if there are signs of the virus) for situational awareness,” he said. “Each department has different policies and we give them the information.”

As for callers who may have eventually tested positive for the virus, Mr. DiCicco said that information is confidential.

Though the Ohio Department of Health announces numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19, he said, the state is the only governmental body that knows the identity and address of those diagnosed.

Mr. DiCicco meets weekly with medical directors from the Cleveland Clinic, MetroHeatlh Medical Center and University Hospitals of Cleveland.

“They have given screening questions, and we are screening every caller (if they want an ambulance),” he said.

The goal is to keep the first responders safe, Mr. DiCicco noted.

Callers are asked if they have a fever, cough, nasal or chest congestion, sore throat or body aches.

“If they say yes, we are just coding it as a possible COVID for our EMS personnel so they can take the necessary measures,” he said. “We are in unprecedented times, and this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime pandemics.”

So far, staff at all three centers are healthy, Mr. DiCicco continued. As part of the level-one lockdown, there is no approval of additional time off, no visitors and each employee is screened with a temperature reading at each shift.

As director, Mr. DiCicco is working diligently to make sure all necessary supplies are had as well as to keep the centers as sterile as possible. As part of the Continuity of Operations Plan, Mr. DiCicco and his assistant director are separated and not at any of the facilities.

The general message he is relaying to the public is, “We are trying to tell everybody, if it is not essential you should not be doing it right now.”

Mr. DiCicco said while he feels the crisis will worsen in the coming weeks, “I do believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

He added there will be a huge increase in “tele-medicine” due to the onset of coronavirus.

For the last decade, Sue Reid has covered the government, business climate and residents of Solon. A Times reporter for 22 years, Ms. Reid has earned commendations from the Ohio Newspaper Association and Cleveland Press Association.

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