'Do not call 911 if you think you have COVID-19,' Hennepin County first responders urge

Hennepin County officials discuss the plan to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Law enforcement agencies in Hennepin County are telling residents not to call 911 if they think they have the coronavirus as many agencies are already seeing a rise in 911 medical calls related to COVID-19. 

"You do not need to call 911 if you suspect you have the coronavirus...we may just evaluate you and tell you to stay home," Hennepin County EMS Chief Marty Scheerer said. "The goal is to reserve 911 for true emergencies."

Scheerer and other first responders from throughout Hennepin County held a press conference Tuesday to give the public an update on the COVID-19 situation. Officials said they've been working on a plan for quite some time, as they expect the 911 call volume to rise dramatically.

"We have a plan for the worst, but we are hoping for the best," Scheerer said.

Scheerer said that the county is varying their staff levels and dividing their crews to accommodate the changing demand.

"We will be responding to emergency calls, but we will be reducing our staffing and response level to these calls," he said. "That will vary day to day and hour to hour. The goal of this is to reduce the number of calls and prevent exposure to patients, their families and our staff. Firefighters, police, paramedics, EMT, EMR, community paramedics, and physicians will all be available to respond."

"We will be sending the most appropriate resources that are available to the emergency. The response will change based on call volume, staffing and type of emergencies," Scheerer added.

Chief Scheer also said emergency responders "may not look the same," as they will most likely be wearing masks, gowns, goggles and other equipment to prevent exposure, while also keeping a distance.

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said that he has spoken with the more than 30 police chiefs throughout the county in coordinating a plan. The sheriff said that if officers get sick, they have the option to "shuffle in" an officer from another city.

"We're as prepared as we can be," he said.

Sheriff Hutchinson also said that Hennepin County Jail will remain open and accept inmates, but they are isolating those who exhibit signs of illness. They are also taking precautions for the staff. Hutchinson said that if the situation gets worse, the jail may release non-violent offenders.