Dozens of First Responders in Isolation After Possible Exposure to COVID-19 in WA

Kirkland, WA – According to a news release by the City of Kirkland, WA, 27 firefighters and two police officers have been quaranteed after displaying flu-like symptoms.

“The Kirkland Fire and Police Departments remain fully staffed and are responding to calls as normal. City’s first responders have CDC-recommended personal protection equipment and are following recommended protocols”, the report stated.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the first responders were possibly exposed to the virus after responding to the outbreak at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle nursing home that has become a local epicenter of the novel virus.

Firefighters and police officers were not aware the virus was present at the nursing home when responding to “multiple calls for patients in distress” last week.

At least eight elderly residents at the home have tested positive, while four have died. Overall, 27 residents and 25 staff members have reported symptoms of the virus, which are said to include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The King County health department currently requires first responders to wear facemasks when treating those with fever or respiratory symptoms, or when treating someone who has recently traveled to China or has come into contact with someone who has.

But the first responders were not told by dispatchers to wear the masks at the time they responded to calls because “residents at the facility didn’t appear to fit the criteria [for coronavirus] in recent weeks.”

Doug Stern, a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, told the Journal that the union has since asked county health officials to change the protocol to warn first responders to wear protective gear when treating people with flu-like symptoms.

Additionally, city and county officials said Monday they plan to buy a motel where coronavirus patients can recover in isolation.

The City has received requests from residents wondering how they can assist in the response. The most important thing people can do right now is heed Public Health – Seattle & King County’s recommendations and take specific actions to reduce the risk individuals and families, including:

  • More hand washing, less face touching. Regular handwashing for at least 20 seconds will decrease the risk that the virus is transmitted;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
    Avoid contact with people who are sick;
  • Stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others.

Be prepared at home:

  1. Have a plan to care for family members should they get sick or schools/offices be closed;
  2. Know workplace telecommute options and school/daycare policies;
  3. Stock up on food supplies and prescription medications now to avoid leaving home if you or someone in your household becomes infected.

The City also encourages community members to follow the recommendations provided by the Public Health – Seattle & King County, including:

1. Do not go to the emergency room unless essential. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs. If you have symptoms like cough, fever, or other respiratory problems, contact your regular doctor first.

2. Stay home when sick.

3. Practice excellent personal hygiene habits, including handwashing, coughing into tissue or elbow, avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth.

The news comes after Washington State officials on Monday announced six coronavirus-related deaths. Overall, more than 80 cases of the virus have been reported in the country.

Doug Stern, a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, says the union and its quarantined members spoke Saturday with county health officials and asked for changing the protocol so dispatchers alert first responders to use protective equipment for those with flulike symptoms, said Bryan Vadney, president of the union’s local.

The union emailed its 320,000 members in the U.S. and Canada on Sunday to caution that the spread of coronavirus domestically may require new screening from dispatchers, who should “rely less on questions regarding travel abroad and more on signs and symptoms, especially with shortness of breath.”

Worldwide, more than 91,000 people have been sickened, while more than 3,000 have died, including 10 in the US – according to the latest estimates.