As COVID-19 continues to spread around the country, the first responders on the front lines are increasingly vulnerable to contracting the virus.
Most of EMS and firefighter deaths as a result of exposure to COVID-19 come from New York and New Jersey.
On Friday, President Trump signed into law S. 3607, the “Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act,” which extends death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to public safety officers who die or become injured as a result of COVID-19.
The law also affirms that deaths related to COVID-19 will be presumed line of duty deaths if the following criteria are met:
- The officer engaged in a line of duty action or activity between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021;
- The officer was diagnosed with COVID–19 (or evidence indicates that the officer had COVID–19) during the 45-day period beginning on the last day of duty of the officer; and
- Evidence indicates that the officer had COVID–19 (or complications therefrom) at the time of the officer’s death.
The CDC recommends that first responders who have direct personal contact with an individual with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, should immediately use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol or wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
They should also avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth. Any uniform items (or other surfaces) that were potentially exposed should be disinfected or cleaned as soon as feasible.
For example, the duty belt or other non-porous items can be disinfected using products that are EPA-approved for use against the virus. Porous items, like the uniform, should be replaced as soon as possible and then laundered according to manufacturers’ recommendations.
This is especially important if any body fluids were expelled during the encounter (bloodborne pathogen protocols should also be followed if applicable).
Gloves should be worn when touching potentially contaminated items or applying disinfectants and it is important to perform hand hygiene upon removing gloves or other PPE.