More than two dozen firefighters in Washington state were quarantined after they were potentially exposed to the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which has already killed six people in the state.
The city of Kirkland, located in King County, said that 27 firefighters and two police officers have been isolated after possible exposure to the mysterious new illness that is believed to have emerged in mainland China late last year.
Some of the firefighters, according to the city, are showing “flu-like symptoms.”
“As additional cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, we have completed our due diligence and identified additional firefighters to place in quarantine. We anticipate that this could continue to happen as the situation evolves,” city officials said a statement.
The Kirkland Fire and Police Departments are fully staffed and are responding to calls as normal, officials said. They also have Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protective equipment and are following federal guidelines.
“We advise community members to stay informed on the most recent updates from our public health agencies and the CDC,” Fire Chief Joseph Sanford said in a statement provided by the city. “Please note that we are not accepting donations from the public of any kind at this time. The best way for the community to help is to implement advice from public health and get yourself and your family prepared.”
The first responders may have been exposed to the virus after being dispatched to what appears to be an outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, which has been linked to several COVID-19 cases and deaths in King County. Officials have said that roughly 50 patients and staff are showing symptoms of the virus, which are said to include a cough, shortness of breath, and other respiratory problems.
Officials told The Wall Street Journal that 27 residents and 25 staffers have shown coronavirus symptoms.
“I’ve stopped kissing my family,” said firefighter Dustin Hill, who responded to a call at Life Care on Feb. 8. Hill, who was placed under quarantine, added, “If I’ve exposed them, it’s done.”
Kirkland firefighter Darren DeBore told the paper that he wasn’t told to wear a respiratory mask when he went to Life Care on Feb. 27, but when he saw patients and medics wearing them, he went back to get one.
“It started to raise a flag,” he said of the incident, adding that he told a battalion chief, “There’s something going on.”
Separately, on March 2, the Dallas Police Department confirmed that five officers who may have been exposed to the virus during an arrest were sent home for quarantine.