From solid waste collectors to firefighters, Houston’s public workers facing strain from coronavirus exposures

Firefighters, police officers, solid waste collectors and bus drivers in Houston have all been affected by coronavirus exposure. (Courtesy Pexel)
Firefighters, police officers, solid waste collectors and bus drivers in Houston have all been affected by coronavirus exposure. (Courtesy Pexel)

Firefighters, police officers, solid waste collectors and bus drivers in Houston have all been affected by coronavirus exposure. (Courtesy Pexel)

Houston’s core city services are being strained by coronavirus exposures, city leaders report.

As of July 9, 73 solid waste drivers, 82 METRO workers, 234 firefighters and 219 police officers were in quarantine for exposure to the virus.

The numbers fluctuate daily, with some workers entering quarantine and others returning to work, but the total amounts are higher than at any other point during the pandemic.

In late March, ahead of the first peak of the outbreak in Houston, the police and fire departments reported about 300 quarantined first responders collectively.

“They are not necessarily getting it from the workplace, but from the community itself,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.


Each department so far has been impacted differently by the added strain on personnel. The fire department has recently seen a slight decrease in quarantine numbers and is still able to staff all stations during each shift. It does at times, have to take a ladder truck out of service, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said.

Peña said although the department is seeing an uptick in calls, he is worried some residents are waiting too long to seek help due to fears of the virus.

Firefighters are seeing an uptick in at-home deaths, Peña said. The Houston Health Department reported over 120 at-home deaths in the last week of June as compared to about 80 in both 2018 and 2019.

“I want to stress to this community: Do not wait to call 911. If you're having cardiac issues, signs or symptoms of a stroke, do not wait too long because these numbers and this data are not moving in the right direction,” Peña said. “We would much rather we take you to the hospital than arrive too late.”

Houston Police are also able to maintain proper staffing levels; however, the department is monitoring three hospitalized employees, including one on a respirator, among its ranks, Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters July 9.

In the solid waste department, the number of quarantined workers was beginning to cause delays in service, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. In the meantime, the city has entered into temporary contracts with private trash collectors to fill in the gaps.

Serving all of Harris County, METRO implemented a 50% reduction in seating capacity to follow social distancing measures earlier in the pandemic and adjusted transportation schedules for bus, light rail and Park & Ride.

However, METRO has not reduced service because of these positive case reports, according to a METRO spokesperson.

On June 25, METRO’s board of directors voted to require all riders, employees, contractors and visitors to wear a face covering in all vehicles, facilities and transit centers.
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.
By Hunter Marrow
Hunter Marrow came to Community Impact Newspaper in January 2020. Before that, Hunter covered local news in Ontario, OR for three years, covering municipal issues, crime, and education across Malheur County and across the border into Idaho.


MOST RECENT

Houston police
Houston will spend $4.1 million from CARES Act to rein in rising crime rate

Violent crime is up 11% in the city of Houston and there are six hot spots throughout the city that are seeing the most violent crime numbers.

Houston ISD officials said 40% of parents are opting to continue virtual learning for the rest of 2020. (Community Impact staff)
As Houston ISD resumes in-person classes, officials tout effort to close digital gap

Some 110,000 devices have been distributed to help close the digital divide.

Hurts Donut
Hurts Donut leaves Katy for new location near Rice Military

The Missouri-based chain serves up creative toppings on donuts 24 hours a day.

New Target store
Target set to open newest Inner Loop location

Target fills the space left by a former Randalls grocery store.

Voters wait in line at a Cy-Fair polling location Oct. 16. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County ballot totals approach 630,000 in first six days of early voting

Ballot counts have averaged about 100,000 daily. Twelve days of early voting remain before the Nov. 3 general election.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and faith leaders
Houston coronavirus updates: Positivity rate hits 5%, places of worship get guidance for reopening

Churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship are recommend to limit gatherings to 25%.

Amazon's new sorting center is now open at 22525 Clay Road, Katy. The 800,000-square-foot building opened Oct. 9. (Courtesy Amazon.com Inc.)
Amazon center in Katy to bring 3K jobs and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

An election official directs a car to a spot at the Humble Civic Center's drive-thru voting location. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Drive-thru voting locations in Harris County see greater numbers than in-person, despite challenges

More than 42,000 residents in Harris County have used the drive-thru centers so far in early voting.

The outlet mall is located in Cypress. (Courtesy Houston Premium Outlets)
Outlet mall in Cy-Fair opens 3 new stores and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular news form the past week from our Houston coverage area.

Houston road closures
Houston traffic alert: I-10 shutdown planned inside the Loop for bridge work

The closure will allow for repairs on the Houston Avenue bridge and work on the Elysian Viaduct.