WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- First responders who are in the frontline are faced with more challenges as they lack protective equipment and testing kits in light of responding with the outbreak effects.
- An official said that the first response team is recycling gears and some are even improvising face masks, such as the use of bandannas.
- Morrison noted that rapid testing among the front-liners is a must, given the increasing number of firefighters who are positive for COVID-19, and others are still doing their duties without knowing if they are infected or not.
First responders who are on the frontline are facing challenges given the lack of protective gears and coronavirus testing kits, an International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) spokesperson said. This gives them a big strain as they help in picking up sick patients from their homes or off the streets.
Pat Morrison, the IAFF’s assistant general president for health, safe and medicine, told Yahoo News on Monday that the team is running out of equipment such as N95 masks, gowns, face shields, eye protection and gloves.
“We’re not in a controlled environment. We’re showing up on different calls and not knowing whether a patient is positive for COVID-19 or not. So we have to treat a lot of calls as if they are.”
The majority of the emergency response team was drawn from the ranks of firefighters. Given the lack of medical gears, the team is recycling, in the same manner as hospital workers do. Some even resort to using makeshift face masks, such as bandannas, which Morrison described as “pretty desperate.”
The fact that even the first responders, who are crucial to the country’s response to the pandemic, cannot get access to COVID-19 testing, makes the situation more difficult.
Currently, there are 1,800 firefighters nationwide who are in self-isolation or quarantine nationwide. According to Morrison, nearly 100 of them have been positive for coronavirus. However, those figures may be inaccurate as IAFF officials think it’s higher but can’t confirm as they don’t have the means to test firefighters who responded to positive COVID-19 patients.
“Nobody has a good number of how many firefighters are positive,” Morrison said. “We’ve been told since the first week of March that testing would be up and it would be more robust and anybody could get tested, and we have not been able to get our members tested.”
Ultimately, Morrison said that “a rapid test would be a game changer” for them, as increased access to testing is crucial for the frontliners. There could be asymptomatic emergency responders who can spread the virus to other team members, and even to patients, without being aware of it.