AUBURN — Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said his deputies and dispatchers have adopted new strategies intended to halt the transmission of the coronavirus when engaging with the public.

One measure recently put into action involves emergency dispatchers asking a series of four or five questions of 911 callers, consistent with existing emergency medical protocols, of people who call in with complaints.

Those questions, Samson explained, will attempt to determine whether the callers meet any of the criteria associated with coronavirus, including whether they have recently returned from overseas.

If the callers answer positively to the questions, dispatchers are instructed to advise emergency responders, such as ambulance crews, so they can proceed accordingly. That may mean donning a mask before conducting an interview in person or doing those interviews over the phone, when feasible.

Samson said his hope is to limit contact between emergency responders and the public. The measure, he said, is aimed at helping protect the responders and members of the public who might be exposed to them.

Samson said his dispatchers will not broadcast information about health matters over the air. They will simply alert the first responder in the event a complainant has answered positively to any of the questions related to coronavirus.

“You have to be responsive to it,” Samson said of the crisis. “And there’s a fine line between dealing with what you can reasonably and creating hysteria or more panic among the people.”

Samson said he has been huddling frequently with Chief Deputy William Gagne and Maj. Mark Cornelio to plan the department’s response to the crisis.

Additionally, he said, all Sheriff’s Office cruisers will be outfitted with basic supplies such as masks and antibacterial hand sanitizer, if they are not already equipped with those items.


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