WESTFIELD –Six city first responders, including five fire personnel and one police officer, have tested positive for COVID-19 and one resident who was confirmed positive for coronavirus has died.
One City Hall employee may also have had the virus, however, Public Health Director Joseph Rouse said April 1 during a telephone press conference that he could not confirm and had to check with the Department of Public Health on that case.
City Emergency Management Director Jim Wiggs said City Hall was thoroughly disinfected, has been closed to the public, and employees working in the building are practicing social distancing and are splitting shifts. Many city employees are working remotely.
Fire Chief Patrick Egloff and Police Chief Lawrence Valliere confirmed the positive results for their personnel on the same conference call and said all have recovered or are quarantined.
Rouse said the city does not receive data from the state regarding COVID-19 related deaths, however, he could confirm one death because his department was notified of the deceased because it was tracking the resident after testing positive.
“We only found out about that because of our follow-up,” he said.
Egloff said all precautions are being taken to keep Westfield Fire Department personnel safe, including shutting down stations to the public and taking everyone’s temperature before entering the building.
“We have put guidelines in place,” Egloff said.
Egloff said the department has been approved for testing staff if symptoms of COVID-19 are presented.
“We quarantine them right away and follow CDC guidelines,” Egloff said, adding that he assumes all five people contracted the virus from contact with patients.
The Westfield Fire Department has 80 firefighters, all of whom are at least a basic EMT and half are paramedics.
Egloff pleaded with the public to help first responders stay safe by not calling 9-1-1 unless it is truly an emergency.
Dispatch Administrator Nina Barszcz also asked the public, when calling 9-1-1, to respond to questions asked by the dispatcher.
“We’re screening calls that are medical in nature, for any symptoms of COVID-19,” Barszcz said.
She said the screening provides information that can help keep first responders safe and she noted that some callers may be asked to meet the first responder outside their door.
Egloff said fire chiefs in Agawam, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Ludlow, Southwick, West Springfield, Westfield, and Wilbraham have entered into an agreement that allows them to exchange personnel in the event of staffing shortfalls during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
According to a press release, first responders working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response are regularly exposed to contagious patients. While they are typically well protected, exposures can and do occur. Guidance from the CDC requires that persons suspected of possibly contracting COVID-19 quarantine for 14 days, the maximum incubation period for COVID-19.
If the exposed individual does not develop symptoms they can return to work after 14 days. “This lost time can place extreme stress on Fire Departments if many firefighters are in quarantine simultaneously or ill. If too many firefighters are absent due to quarantine, the delivery of emergency services in the community can quickly begin to suffer,” stated the release. “This unprecedented agreement between area fire departments allows firefighters to work across municipal borders and fill staffing shortages that would severely impact individual communities. Provisions of the agreement would only be activated if an individual community was unable to meet its operational requirements with its own personnel. The agreement is only in effect for the period of the COVID-19 Emergency Pandemic and is being jointly managed by the department Fire Chiefs.”
Egloff stressed that none of the communities are in immediate need of aid, but the agreement “creates a degree of comfort for the members of the community and Firefighters alike. The unique collaboration is a tribute to the professionalism of the area Fire Departments and demonstrates the outside the box thinking that is required to navigate successfully through these challenging times.”