HUNTINGTON — Cabell County medical personnel brushed up on techniques to protect themselves from disease exposure and other hazards during a training workshop offered Monday by the West Virginia National Guard.

The goal was to refresh healthcare workers and first responders on the proper protocols and decontamination processes to help mitigate exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has so far has no confirmed cases in West Virginia.

Workers also brushed up on their responses to radiological, biological and chemical exposure by learning how to properly decontaminate themselves with hazmat suits, gas masks and other equipment.

Although Monday’s workshop featured training for the worst-case scenarios, healthcare workers were instructed that their responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus will not be different from precautions they already take for the flu and other common diseases, said West Virginia National Guard Capt. Sean Iverson.

“COVID-19 is not much different than any other infectious disease or any other biological disease,” Iverson said. “It’s a situation where if you practice good contamination processes, you can eliminate secondary infection. You also wear the right protective gear to mitigate any hazards to yourself or other people as you operate about your work day.”

Iverson said protective equipment for the pandemic response typically include gloves and a standard face mask.

In Cabell County, first responders are prepared for an influx of potential coronavirus patients, said Steve Vititoe, Cabell County EMS logistics manager. However, the situation could become more difficult if the outbreak is not limited quickly once it hits.

“We are prepared, but we could very easily get overwhelmed if people don’t follow what the government says, and that’s wash your hands and try to isolate yourself, don’t go to crowded venues,” said Vititoe. “It could get to be a real problem for us if everybody got sick at once.”

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended halting gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. Previously gatherings of 250 weren’t recommended. Conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings and other assemblies can allow the virus to spread further, the CDC said.

There is currently a nationwide shortage of protective gear necessary for some communities to protect against the virus, Iverson said. Cabell County could face a shortage on masks if the virus spreads quickly, he said.

As of now, protocol for responding to a coughing patient is to wear a mask and give another mask to the patient to stop the spread of germs. The county’s mask supply would quickly deplete if masks were required for every emergency call or a majority of calls, he said.

“If we would ramp up things and there would be multiple problems, we would run out of masks quickly,” he said.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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