SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Four San Jose firefighters have been confirmed to have contracted the COVID-19 virus, with another several dozen fire department staffers now being restricted from work, a firefighters’ union announced Thursday.

The news followed word earlier Thursday from the city that one San Jose firefighter had tested positive for the coronavirus and may have exposed others in the firehouse to the illness.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

San Jose Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 230 said aside from the four positive diagnoses, two more firefighters are in isolation at home with symptoms and awaiting test results. In addition nearly 80 firefighters have been restricted from work because of documented exposure, the union said.

The sick firefighters also have multiple family members who have tested COVID-19 positive, the union added, while other family members with symptoms of the virus were waiting for their test results.

“As firefighters, we commit our careers and lives to serving the public in their time of need. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as it grows among our residents is an unprecedented challenge, and we are up to that challenge,” said IAFF Local 230 President Sean Kaldor in a prepared statement. But it is also taking a tremendous toll on us as we fall ill and support our ill family members.”

Per the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a firefighter exposed without protective equipment to an coronavirus patient is removed from serving the public for 14 days as their symptoms are monitored.

There are more than 40 confirmed cases of coronavirus virus within Santa Clara County, which is now taking a toll on municipal employees.

“We are now seeing the impacts of coronavirus on the (city) organization through exposure of our employees,” said San Jose City Manager Dave Sykes. “I want to reassure you all we are following all the guidance we receive from the public health department.”

Earlier Thursday Assistant Fire Chief Reggie Williams had said at least 50 other firefighters were exposed out of the city force of 750.

“Because our firefighters work in teams and train together and they eat together and sleep in the same areas, they are at risk for possible exposure,” he said. “We don’t know how the firefighter contracted the illness. He is in a hospital in the city where he resides being treated by medical professionals.”

Williams said other firefighters who were at risk of exposure have been placed on leave.

“Because our firefighters work in teams, the live together, eat together, sleep in the same areas, they are at risk for possible exposure,” Williams said. “As firefighters are either emergency medical technicians or paramedics, they are able to self monitor for signs of the illness.”

Williams said all city fire stations would be soon be undergoing deep cleaning as a safety precaution and suspended all visits by the public. He said the department has been able to back fill with other firefighters on mandatory overtime to cover the impacted duties.

Meanwhile, department is issuing extra protective gear for all firefighters to wear on virtually every call they respond to from now on.

“That includes N-95 masks, gloves, goggles, gowns for protections, tie-back suits and high protection respirators,” said Kaldor. “Our goal right now is to prevent those infections.  Not get them on the line, not get them bewteen each other, and not get them from casual contact out in the community.”

At least two firestations, including Fire Station 31 on Ruby Avenue, and Fire Station 9 on Ross Avenue were temporarily closed for deep cleaning and have since reopened.

The department said of the firefighters initially quarantined, 16 of those have returned to work.

“We’re going to keep those rigs running, and our members are committed to doing that. So when people call 911, we’ll be there,” Kaldor said.

 

Len Ramirez contributed to this report.

 

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