Over 300 of Houston’s first responders under quarantine for coronavirus

With rising case numbers citywide, Houston's first responders risk exposure to coronavirus while on duty. (Courtesy Pexels)
With rising case numbers citywide, Houston's first responders risk exposure to coronavirus while on duty. (Courtesy Pexels)

With rising case numbers citywide, Houston's first responders risk exposure to coronavirus while on duty. (Courtesy Pexels)

Over 300 Houston police officers and firefighters were under quarantine for exposure to the coronavirus as of March 29, according to a city report.

In addition to those, 11 police officers and seven firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19.

“At some point, if nothing changes, we’re not going to have enough people to call in on overtime,” Houston Fire Chief Peña said.

About half of the firefighters who need to quarantine were exposed to the virus by another firefighter, Peña said and many were asymptomatic when they exposed others. The numbers fluctuate daily as new first responders are exposed and some quarantine periods end. Soon, the department plans to require firefighters to take their temperatures before beginning a shift, he said.

The concern extends to those who are making the call as well, Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton said.

“We respond to the most vulnerable everyday and we are already responding to people with underlying health conditions,” he said.

Houston police union President Joe Gamaldi said most of the police officers who have been quarantined are required to do so because they recently returned from travel. For now, he said the department is able to offer its same level of service.

“Thankfully the calls for service are staying about normal and we’re able to keep our heads above water but if any of that changes it is absolutely going to have an impact on service,” Gamaldi said.

Peña, like other leaders on the front line of the coronavirus battle, has been working to secure adequate protective equipment and keep his facilities clean. Emergency declarations from state and city officials have cleared red tape that prevents departments from quickly securing contracts with vendors.

The Fire Department currently has about a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment and Peña said they are working to amp supplies up to 60 day’s worth. Recently however, before a shipment of protective gowns came in, Peña said the department was close to running out completely.

“We were down to two days' worth and we just got the shipment in,” Peña said. “We’re doing the leg work and we’re also doing our part to do it judiciously by sending the minimum amount of people needed on a call and not being wasteful.”

Gamaldi said the police department is finding ways to respond to more requests over the phone and supply officers with gloves and masks. He said HPOU has acquired 7,000 pairs of gloves 3,600 bottles of hand sanitizer for officers.

Most firefighters and police officers are quarantined at home but some who live with eldery or immunocompromised family members are staying in hotels.

Houston City Council plans to vote on leases with two hotels for additional quarantine sites April 1.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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