Thanks largely to a loosening of health guidelines, the number of Spokane city firefighters in quarantine and out of work has dropped since last week.
Nineteen firefighters were in quarantine on Wednesday, compared to 33 last Thursday, according to Deputy Chief Jay Atwood.
Several firefighters have been tested for COVID-19, but the department has yet to report a positive result. It is waiting for the results of about a dozen more, Atwood said.
Initially, the department required firefighters to quarantine if they showed symptoms of COVID-19 or had direct exposure to people who were symptomatic, but it has since adopted the recently updated guidelines of the state Department of Health, which recommends quarantining first responders only when they are symptomatic.
But as that standard loosened, the fire department instituted strict requirements of firefighters.
All firefighters are now wearing masks at all times – even at the fire station – unless they are eating, drinking or sleeping.
The 19 firefighters out of work account for about 6% of the workforce, a normal amount to be out sick this time of year.
“If we were still quarantining exposures without symptoms, we would be probably closer to a 30% impact,” Atwood said.
Atwood was not certain how many firefighters had been tested for COVID-19 but said every result thus far has been negative. The department is waiting on results for about a dozen more firefighters.
One firefighter is in the hospital with flu symptoms, but it is not known if he has COVID-19, Atwood said. The firefighter had underlying medical issues that have complicated his recovery, according to Atwood.
Under the state guidelines, a first responder who tests positive for COVID-19 – or is symptomatic but has not gotten test results – can not return to work until at least seven days after symptoms first appeared and three days after symptoms subside. Agencies across the region are considering increasing the requirement to 10 days post-onset of illness, Atwood.
The department wants to err on the side of caution, he added.
“At the end of the day, even if they weren’t COVID sick, influenza A, influenza B, any of those things can wreak havoc,” Atwood said.
Last week, the department moved quickly to designate Fire Station Six, located near the Spokane International Airport, as a temporary quarantine facility. Thus far, no firefighter has used it.
“As of today, we’re in pretty good shape, but that could change on a dime,” Atwood said.
In terms of its mask supply, Atwood said “we’re in pretty good shape,” and if the supply diminishes, the depatment will rely on reusable masks that may not be sufficient for contact with a high-risk patient but adequate for low-risk use around the fire station.
“If you’re at work, you’re wearing a mask,” Atwood said.
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