Pittsburg County upgrades to Level 2 emergency management designation

JAMES BEATY | Staff photoRegional Health Director Juli Montgomery, right, talks with Pittsburg County Emergency Management Director Kevin Enloe on Monday. County officials upgraded Pittsburg County to Level 2 emergency designation on Monday.

Pittsburg County has been upgraded from a Level 3 to a Level 2 designation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Level 1 is considered the highest level of emergency management action.

McAlester/Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management Director Kevin Enloe said Monday an upgrade to Level 1 will occur as soon as the first positive test for COVID-19 is confirmed in Pittsburg County.

"We will be at Level 1 once we have a case," he said.

Although there had been no positive tests as of early Monday, Enloe thinks it's only a matter of time.

"It's not if — it's when," Enloe told Pittsburg County commissioners during their regular Monday meeting at the Pittsburg County Courthouse.

Enloe stressed that Pittsburg County was not in a crisis state as of early Monday, but plans were being made to cover that possibility.

"We're not there yet, but the resources are coming in," he said. 

Enloe said after the meeting that emergency management staff will split their work-time into 12 hours shifts.

Regional Health Department Director Juli Montgomery, who operates out of the Pittsburg County Health Department, said early Monday she was awaiting further guidance from the state as to when a regional COVID-19 testing center will open in McAlester.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has designated McAlester as one of four regional mobile testing centers in the state.

"We have not determined a location," Montgomery said early Monday. "We are looking for direction today."

Although the Pittsburg County Health Department has a limited number of testing kits available, many more are expected once the mobile testing center opens.

Even when it opens, the tests will not be available for everybody who wants one.

"We will have a process in place that does screening," Montgomery said of the procedure to determine who needs a test.

Meanwhile, Montgomery has asked a former colleague to come on board with his expertise — former Pittsburg County Health Department Administrator Mike Echelle.

"He's been my mentor for about four years," Montgomery said. She said she knew Echelle had conducted a number of drive-through procedures and drills during his time at the health department.

"I want to make sure we are covering all our bases," she said.

Echelle said Montgomery called and asked if he would assist with the response to COVID-19 and the mobile testing procedures.

"I said 'sure,'" Echelle said. "I think they are doing a good job," he said, adding he would help any way he can.

Echelle, who retired from the Health Department in 2016, served as the county health department director during the Sooner Spring bioterrorism exercise, He also helped set up a number of mass flu vaccination events and served as the county health department administrator during the H1N1 outbreak.

Still, the current pandemic has its own challenges.

"This is an event unlike anything the public health system has seen," said Echelle.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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