HARLINGEN — City Commissioner Frank Puente is requesting the mandatory testing of the city’s first responders after two firefighters and three ambulance company employees contracted the coronavirus.
Currently, the fire department and South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, a nonprofit contracted to provide emergency medical services, test employees on a voluntary basis.
“I’m requesting we require all first responders to be tested whether they have symptoms or not,” Puente said Thursday. “Now, they’re offering it voluntarily.”
So far, a firefighter and a recently retired firefighter are quarantined in their homes after testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, City Manager Dan Serna stated Thursday morning.
“They are both in-home quarantine and in our thoughts and prayers for a full recovery,” he stated.
Serna could not be reached by press time to comment on Puente’s proposal.
The city is following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, city spokeswoman Irma Garza said.
“We are following CDC guidelines and they are being screened when they come to work,” she said.
Garza was trying to determine the dates in which they tested positive and whether the retired firefighter was working for the department when he tested positive.
3 STEC employees have tested positive
Meanwhile, a STEC employee was in the hospital after testing positive for the virus while two company employees had recovered from infections and were getting back to work, Rene Perez, the company’s transport director, said.
Perez added some employees were being tested.
“Our paramedic and EMT personnel are on the front lines of dealing with this pandemic and, as a necessary element of doing their jobs, are exposed to patients with COVID-19 virus and symptoms multiple times every day,” William Aston, STEC’s executive director, stated.
As part of their jobs, STEC’s personnel enter the city’s nursing homes, two of which include Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare and Windsor Atrium, where 119 patients have tested positive for the virus, officials said.
“Despite the best of efforts, because of the high and constant level of exposure, you are inevitably going to have some EMS personnel test positive or exhibit signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and we have experienced that just like other first responders and health care workers including doctors and nurses,” Aston stated, adding his personnel wear personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and outfits.
“Given the number of paramedics and EMTs we have working, we have had surprisingly few folks test positive or show signs of illness,” Aston stated.
STEC tests employees showing any symptoms, Aston stated.
“Any employee who exhibits or describes symptoms of any kind consistent with COVID-19 is immediately pulled from the field, sent home or to the doctor and tested,” he stated.
Employees who test positive are “quarantined for the required period of time and are not allowed to return to work until they test negative and are free of symptoms,” a press release stated.