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Five firefighters quarantined despite negative COVID-19 test result

Posted at 8:08 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 23:35:15-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Five Corpus Christi Firefighters remain under quarantine following their exposure to a COVID-19 patient despite one of them testing negative for the coronavirus.

Four firefighters from Station 12 and two ambulance crew members from another station responded to a May 19 call for a patient having heart problems. The city found out yesterday that the patient later tested positive for COVID-19.

It was determined that one of the six crew members did not come in close enough contact with the patient to contract the virus, and that person was cleared to return to duty. The remaining five were placed in quarantine at a closed fire station along with three other firefighters who made contact with them.

One of the original five felt sickly Wednesday night and was tested for COVID-19 Thursday morning. The test came back negative in the late afternoon, and the three firefighters who had secondary contact were released from quarantine. The city says the original five will remain there until April 2 out of "an abundance of caution."

“The city wants to make sure our employees are safe and healthy and well-protected,” City Manager Peter Zanoni said after a press conference this afternoon and before the test results came back.

The city has already taken a measure it hopes will limit cases like this in which emergency crews arrive to treat a patient for one ailment only to expose them to undiagnosed coronavirus. Nine-One-One dispatchers will now do more pre-screening of patients before sending crews to their aid.

“If there’s an EMS vehicle nearby, and the case isn’t high risk, then we’ll just send the EMS vehicle," Zanoni said. "So that is to say fewer persons arrive at the scene if appropriate. It’s all based on the diagnosis of the 911 call.”

Corpus Christi Fire Chief Robert Rocha says, while it would be nice if firefighters could wear masks and other gear that could protect them from COVID-19 on every call, it's not feasible.

“The Corpus Christi Fire Department responds to roughy 120 medical calls a day," Chief Rocha said. "If two to five people wore the gear on every call -- every medical call -- we’d run out.”