After years of planning, the new county emergency radio system launched Thursday morning.

“We are live, it’s working great,” said Pat Collins, emergency management director told the Riley County Commission Thursday.

“I think this is a big key to helping the citizens and anybody who travels through our community,” Collins said.

The system, which cost $5.2 million, lets emergency responders communicate with each other.

By Sept. 24, not all scanner listeners may be able to hear the radio channels, however, because most of the operational channels are encrypted, Collins said. This is so responders can share medical information during critical incidents.

“Really, unless you have a very special scanner that listens to trunking, that listens to 800 megahertz and then would have some way of getting our encryption key, you’re probably not going to hear that,” Collins said.

Some channels, such as the rural fire ones, will not be encrypted.

“There’s some other paging that’s going to be unencrypted, so they can hear some calls and some day-to-day traffic,” Collins said.

“But, for the most part, if we’re on a critical incident, they’re not going to hear that.”

However, Collins said commissioners can make a change in the future to open it up for the media and the public to hear channels from the scanner if there’s a need.

“But right now, just trying to get the system up and running, make sure it’s working for us, and then we can address those needs as you guys desire,” Collins said.

Commissioners expressed excitement about the radio launch.

“Just extremely glad we’re getting up and online,” said commissioner John Ford.

In addition, Riley County Health Department director Julie Gibbs updated the commission Thursday about the coronavirus situation in Riley County.

Of the three free testing events last week in Manhattan, Ogden and Leonardville, 567 people were tested. So far, 43, or 7.5%, of the tests came back positive.

“So a little higher than I thought it would be,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said there will likely be another free testing event in the next couple weeks.

As of Wednesday, Riley County had confirmed 1,501 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in March.

Of those, 773 are active, 720 are recovered and eight people have died after testing positive for the coronavirus, Gibbs said Thursday morning.

There are three positive patients at Ascension Via Christi hospital in Manhattan, Gibbs said.

Riley County releases data Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.