SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A coronavirus outbreak among San Jose firefighters grew to eight confirmed cases Friday with 46 others who may have been exposed still being monitored, officials said.
In a press release, city officials said that “after a review of the employees’ work assignments, the Fire Department has proceeded to order deep cleaning of Fire Stations 9, 31 and the Fire Training Center.”
First word of the outbreak came on Thursday with city officials announcing a single firefighter had tested positive for the virus and may have exposed others in the firehouse to the illness.
“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,” Assistant Fire Chief Reggie Williams 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.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
Within hours, San Jose Fire Fighters union — IAFF Local 230 — said the illness had spread to include four firefighters with two more in isolation at home with symptoms and awaiting test results. In addition, the union said, nearly 80 firefighters have been restricted from work because of documented exposure.
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.
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.”
Len Ramirez contributed to this report.