No Frederick County first responders, including firefighters and law enforcement officers, have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, but testing has been limited.
The Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services confirmed that several firefighters, emergency medical personnel and other essential employees have been tested for the novel coronavirus, but that, as of Thursday, none of the tests had come back positive, according to Sarah Campbell, an agency spokeswoman who responded to The Frederick News-Post’s questions by email.
While she confirmed that several COVID-19 patients had been transported by emergency rescue personnel, Campbell stressed the steps the agency is taking to ensure firefighters and medical personnel are not exposed to the virus and are not unnecessarily putting other employees or residents at risk.
“Fire/rescue personnel complete a wellness check upon reporting for duty [and] we have had personnel who have been sent home due to these wellness checks,” Campbell wrote in part. “[There has been] no increase in the number of employees who are calling out sick on a daily basis and none related to the COVID illness. No fire/rescue employee or volunteer has tested positive to COVID-19 to our knowledge.”
As of Thursday, county emergency medical personnel had implemented a statewide protocol to identify whether people who potentially have the virus can be treated at home a total of six times, Campbell said. That protocol, designed by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS), was rolled out in the county March 26 for use when rescue personnel encounter someone who may have the virus.
County law enforcement agencies have also reported testing some officers, but on a very limited basis. For example, three Frederick police officers have been tested for the novel coronavirus, all three of whom received negative results, according to an email response to The Frederick News-Post’s question by Sgt. Matt Carrado, a department spokesman. That said, 15 more officers were effected or showed symptoms, but did not receive tests because they did not meet the criteria for testing, Carrado said.
“[Those] remaining employees were advised to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution and after consultation with the city’s Risk/Safety and Compliance office which is part of the city of Frederick’s Human Resources Department,” Carrado’s statement reads in part.
Emergency medical service personnel, health care workers and law enforcement officers who show symptoms consistent with COVID-19 rank the second highest on the Maryland Department of Health’s testing priority tier, just beneath hospitalized patients showing symptoms. Regardless, the limited number of tests available in the state affects medical and law enforcement personnel’s ability to get tested, just like ordinary residents.
“It’s important to note, just like what is being reported in other parts of the country, many of our employees are in good health, and as a result, even if they had symptoms consistent with COVID, they were not eligible to be tested,” Carrado pointed out in his written response.
Lt. Wayne Wachsmuth, the commander of the Frederick County barracks of the Maryland State Police, confirmed that one trooper was sent home after developing “a low grade fever and cough” early on in the pandemic.
“He was tested for the coronavirus, and the results were negative,” Wachsmuth said. “He returned to work a week and a half later and after receiving the negative results.”
While the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office had not tested any of its essential personnel for COVID-19 as of this week, the agency has a plan in place to handle any deputies or other personnel who show symptoms of the virus or are otherwise suspected of being infected, according to Taylor Clarke, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, in an email response to The Frederick News-Post’s questions.
“We implemented a comprehensive plan several weeks ago that employs the best known practices from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and local health officials concerning exposure guidelines and personnel practices for COVID-19. Agency commanders maintain regular contact with allied agencies, such as the health department, and our supervisors are constantly monitoring employee health and welfare,” Clarke stated. “We evaluate every potential exposure on an individual basis and make a decision on how to proceed that is consistent with guidance provided by health officials.”
The sheriff’s office also checks every employee when they report for duty, just like every other public safety agency in the county, but no essential employees of the sheriff’s office had been sent home with symptoms up through Wednesday, according to Clarke.