First Responders: The Intricacies of the Front Lines

Haylee Harrell, Editor in Chief

     As the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues to spread, an outcry of support for first responders and essential workers has erupted all over social media platforms. Posts featuring hashtags such as #FirstResponder, #ThinGoldLine, #ThankYou911 and #EssentialWorkers are trending on Twitter. While obvious support for these workers during this uncertain time is being shown, the implications COVID-19 has is relatively unknown to the general public. 

     “I’m just not sure what the future holds,” said med-tech nurse Wanda Mackenzie. “It’s the calm before the storm. I know it’s coming. I don’t want to live in fear.” 

     Mackenzie works at Children’s Mercy Hospital in downtown Kansas City, where significant changes are being made to better serve patients with coronavirus. 

     “Every single patent that comes in that is being screened for COVID-19 is assigned to one unit that is isolated from the rest of the hospital,” said Mackenzie.  

     The hospital also has a designated room specifically for sanitizing the protective equipment. 

     “They’re not playing around,” said Mackenzie. “We’re daily screening the parents regularly. We’re also screening the employees daily.”

     As for keeping employees and patients safe, according to Mackenzie, almost half of Children’s Mercy employees now work at home if they are nonessential. 

     “They stopped all electric surgeries. They stopped most all outpatient clinics. Unless it’s an emergency, we’re not doing it,” said Mackenzie.  

     The police department has also made temporary changes to combat COVID-19, including a response plan which would change the allocation of officers available to respond to emergency calls for service, especially if the officers were to become infected.

     “We have been instructed to limit how we conduct interviews with victims. Right now, we are primarily conducting recorded telephone interviews,” said Detective Michael James. “When we do have to interrogate suspects, both the suspect and detective must wear an approved N95 mask and also maintain the suggested six feet of distance.”

     James is a detective in the Special Victims Unit for the Kansas City Police Department, and has reported that the police procedures are not the only change within the department. 

     “We have seen an increase in domestic violence related calls increase by 22% over the same time last year, which is significant,” said James. 

     James’ unit specifically investigates child physical and sexual abuse.

     “We have noticed a concerning downward trend of reported child abuse during this time.  The Missouri Children’s Division has also noted a drastic reduction in hotline calls to child abuse and neglect hotline,” said James. 

     On average, James’ unit is assigned 40 to 50 new cases of physical and sexual abuse in a two week time span. They have received only 10 new cases in the past two weeks.

     “A vast number of hotlines come from schools and daycares, and because children are not attending school, no one is there to see injuries or hear a child’s disclosure about abuse,” said James. “My biggest frustration is not being able to help the victims of child physical and sexual abuse because no one is reporting it.”

     Quarantine may be the best solution for overall public health, but it is not the best solution for children in abusive homes.  

     “The concern is…leaving children at risk for serious injuries or sexual abuse because they are still at home with their perpetrators,” said James. 

     However, there is another type of ‘risk’ to consider: the health of workers like James. 

     “As a first responder, there is always a risk of coming into contact with someone that has an infectious disease,” said James. “As long as I’m taking the appropriate precautions, I don’t worry too much.”

     James is not alone in this mentality. 

     “Covid 19 is not something I worry about from me,” said Mackenzie. “But for Callie [Mackenzie’s daughter with down syndrome]… I’m not sure she would be able to fight it off. I do not want her to catch anything that I could be bringing home without knowing.”

     There is one glaring solution that will keep Mackenzie’s daughter and thousands others safe…

     “Stay home. You don’t need to go to QT for a soda and a lottery ticket,” said James. 

     Social distancing is key.

     “If you don’t have to leave, don’t do it,” said Mackenzie. “People like me have to ship off my daughter because I fear for her safety, when others are taking COVID-19 as a joke. The sooner people do what they need to do, the sooner it will be over.”