SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. —
First responders across the Sacramento area are testing positive for coronavirus, and as more tests for the virus are conducted, the number will likely increase.
The Sacramento Fire Department, Sacramento Metro Fire District and UC Davis Medical Center have all reported positive cases among their workforce since Monday.
The Sacramento Fire Department announced Wednesday that a member of the agency tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for the department said the employee has not been on duty since March 11 due to previously scheduled time off.
Roberto Padilla, a Sacramento firefighter and representative of the local firefighters union, said first responders are dealing with an "invisible enemy and the unknown."
"The number of cases, as they keep rising, the demand for supplies could be exhausted," Padilla said. "As we are seeing across the country, as that possibly continues, it's important for our members to take care of themselves."
Still, Padilla said there's a longterm concern of safety for first responders, not just in contracting the virus themselves, but the sheer exhaustion of the "tsunami" of coronavirus patients officials expect with an increase of testing.
"As first responders start getting sick, and they start getting quarantined, the concern is always, 'Are we going to run out of first responders?'" Padilla asked rhetorically. "We don't know"
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Metro Fire District was notified Tuesday that one of its firefighters tested positive for the virus after responding to a 911 call where they treated a patient who later tested positive for the virus, the department announced.
The fire district says all personnel who worked with the employee were notified and crews are following guidelines from the county health department, which includes monitoring exposed employees for symptoms and keeping their facilities clean.
Metro Fire recently put together procedures for social distancing and increased cleaning at the facilities. On March 19, Vestal told ABC10 that their call-takers would be asking people whether sick persons had a fever, were coughing or showing any other symptoms of coronavirus.
As part of the precautions, firefighters would also be using special gloves, eye protection, a gown, and a respirator. The district even reduced the responders who would make patient contact.
At UC Davis Medical Center, several staff members tested positive for the coronavirus last week while being in the community, prompting hospital officials to warn that "many members" are likely to do the same, according to an internal memo obtained by ABC10.
The memo, which was first reported by The Sacramento Bee, was sent out by UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky to hospital staff on Monday, warning that as more people in the community test positive for the virus, so, too, will hospital staff.
The California Department of Public Health’s latest update on coronavirus says 35 health care workers have tested positive for the virus.
"This is unprecedented, though," Padilla said. "This is something we've never dealt with. It's always been theoretical. Now it's factual. So we are learning. I'm sure there will be lessons learned. The bottom line is it's a risk we take."
According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.
Currently, there is no vaccine; however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
WHY HEALTH OFFICIALS ARE SO CONCERNED
Some people have compared the low overall death toll to the flu's high annual death toll in the United States as a reason not to be concerned about COVID-19, however, doctors and health officials are concerned for three main reasons:
- There's no vaccine yet and won't be one for until early 2021, at the soonest. Scientists are still researching what other medications could help patients.
- Some people have built up immunity to the flu, but few have immunity to COVID-19 version of coronavirus.
- Both the flu and COVID-19 are spread by droplets, but COVID-19 might be spread in the air. Scientists are researching exactly how COVID-19 spreads.
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