The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and Delaware’s police and fire departments are dealing with a new reality during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Sheriff’s and police officials said the number of incident reports they’ve received has decreased noticeably during Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order.
“Nothing any of us have ever seen is anything like this,” said Delaware fire Chief John Donahue.
Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski told City Council during an April 13 meeting that, in March, his department took about 230 fewer reports than in March 2019.
Capt. Adam Moore gave ThisWeek Delaware News specific numbers, comparing March 24 to April 11 of this year with the same date range in 2019.
The city took about 380 fewer calls in 2020, he said.
During the same time frame, from 2019 to 2020:
• Traffic accidents fell from 48 to 16.
• Theft reports fell from 53 to 23.
• Juvenile complaints fell from 37 to 36.
• Domestic-violence reports fell from 54 to 41.
Pijanowski said the drop in domestic-violence incident reports is in contrast to expectations that domestic violence would increase under the stay-at-home order.
However, those expectations were accurate when it came to the sheriff’s office.
“Sadly, domestics have seen an increase,” said Tracy Whited, the department’s community and media relations manager.
In March 2019, she said, deputies took 36 domestic incident reports, which includes both domestic violence and incidents that don’t escalate into violence, such as arguments, disputes and unruly juveniles.
This March, she said, that number jumped to 58.
The number of domestic-violence arrests went from seven in March 2019 to 12 last month, she said.
“In addition to domestics, we’ve seen a slight increase in loud-disturbances complaints and neighbor complaints,” Whited said.
“Also, we are concerned that we’ve already seen an increase in suicide attempts, from 13 in March of 2019 up to 19 in March of 2020,” she said.
“We urge residents to reach out for help if they are struggling.”
In Delaware County, those with mental-health issues or who are considering suicide may call the 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 1-800-684-2324 or text “helpline” to 898211, Whited said.
The number of weekly reports taken by deputies in March, listed chronologically, are 136, 155, 93 and 84, she said. Ohio closed its schools in the third week of March and began the stay-at-home order in the fourth week.
During the first week of this month, she said, deputies took 90 reports.
Deputies made 11 arrests for driving while intoxicated in March 2019 and seven last month, she said.
With less traffic on the road, she said, “If you drink and drive now, the odds that we will find you have increased.”
Moore said he believes the city’s motor-vehicle traffic has decreased, adding, “Delaware is doing a good job of complying with the stay-at-home orders.”
He said the police department’s staffing levels have remained consistent since the stay-at-home order was issued.
“We’ve made some minor adjustments to our day-to-day operations, but our ability to respond to the needs of the community remains the same,” Moore said. “We have received a few complaints regarding violations of these orders, but overall have seen a lot of voluntary compliance.”
In an effort to reduce exposure to the coronavirus, Whited said each deputy now spends one paid administrative day at home each week. On those days, deputies are on call if needed and must be available by phone, she said.
Deputies have access to personal protection equipment, such as face masks, and have used it as needed, Whited said.
When it comes to fire protection, Delaware City Manager Tom Homan last month said the city’s protocol is that the fire chief acts as “our lead here on the ground,” along with the police chief.
The chiefs are monitoring the situation in the city minute by minute, Homan said.
“Our city employees continue to provide services at all levels of government,” Donahue said April 10.
Three times a week, he said, members of all city departments hold an online conference.
Topics include any needed supplies and services, plus operations of different departments, including fire-EMS and law enforcement.
A number of city employees are working from home, he said.
Another focus has been to ensure fire-department personnel have protective equipment and aren’t exposed to the coronavirus, he said.
As of April 10, “We’ve been very fortunate,” Donahue said.
Fire-department personnel have transferred coronavirus patients with “considerable significant exposure,” Donahue said. The medics go through a decontamination procedure after such ambulance runs, he said.
The fire department coordinates its efforts with the Delaware General Health District and Delaware City Schools, Donahue said. He lauded the school district for handing out 25,000 meals at curbside pickups at district buildings since Ohio schools closed in March.
The county’s fire and EMS departments are prepared if numbers of their personnel contract the coronavirus and can’t work, Donahue said.
The county has been divided into four quadrants as a contingency, he said, and if necessary, multiple departments can respond to any 911 calls in their quadrants if limited personnel becomes an issue.
The fire department has seen a slight decrease in emergency calls since the stay-at-home order was issued, Donahue said.
He said the department urges the public to contact a personal physician with symptoms of flu or the coronavirus, instead of calling 911. Those without a personal doctor may contact the health district, he said.
Those precautions are designed to prevent overloading the hospital system, he said.
Jeff Fishel, Delaware County EMS director, earlier said the county has made arrangements with Battelle – a Columbus-based nonprofit research company – to have medical-grade face masks decontaminated once a week.
Donahue said the first countywide batch of masks was scheduled to be delivered April 13 to Battelle.
Firefighters don’t wear the medical-grade masks on each call, but do put surgical masks on all patients transferred to a hospital, he said.
EMS personnel have been using some protection equipment since three years ago, when the danger of fentanyl became apparent, he said. The opioid is so powerful that any physical contact might cause an overdose, he said.
“I want to thank the public for their support that we need to stay focused” during the pandemic, Donahue said.
Social distancing and staying at home now will limit deaths from the coronavirus weeks from now, he said.
“It’s how to protect yourself and help all of us,” he said.