Pittsburgh First Responders Won't Be Told If They're Exposed To Coronavirus
Pittsburgh, PA – Pittsburgh first responders aren’t being notified when they’re exposed to coronavirus and officials are concerned about the public health risk posed by the lack of information sharing.
The Pittsburgh mayor’s office and the Public Safety Department blamed the problem on federal healthcare privacy laws and said they’re working on a solution to the problem, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“My concern and focus is on the health and wellbeing of all the residents of the City of Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said in a statement.
“For first responders, this is particularly important now during this emergency scenario. We rely on them to keep the public safe. But if their health and their families’ health is not being protected, it diminishes their ability to protect and serve the community. I share their concerns and hope that we come to a resolution expeditiously,” Hissrich said.
The Pennsylvania Health Department said it was no longer tracing COVID-19 cases, nor reaching out to people who might have been exposed to those infected people, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“With more than 100 cases in Pennsylvania, contact tracing would involve working to contact thousands of people, and that will only increase,” Pennsylvania Health Department Spokesman Nate Wardle said. “It is important for first responders to follow their normal personal protective equipment protocols, something they have all been taught since they first started serving their communities.”
There is a serious concern that firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers could become exposed to coronavirus and never know it, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
International Association of Firefighters Local 1 President Ralph Sicuro said first responders could infect their family members and the public they serve while doing their jobs if they do not know they’ve been exposed.
“What we’re taking about is first responders being exposed to somebody who is a potentially infected patient and [the patient] being tested later and we’re not being notified that that patient tested positive,” Sicuro said. “We have to continue to do our job and we’re going to do it to the best of our ability, but my concern is if we don’t do something about this, we are exposing our firefighters who are on the front lines to risk.”
Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics Local 1 President Jeff Tremel said hospitals usually notify Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services administration or medical staff when a patient they’ve transported or cared for tested positive for a contagious disease, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
But Tremel said it was more problematic when a patient was transported by first responders and initially tested negative, but then returned to the hospital on their own a few days later and tested positive.
Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1 President Robert Swartzwelder said officers are exposed to infectious diseases through their work frequently and that they have protocols to handle the exposure, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
But Swartzwelder said the coronavirus pandemic has created a new situation.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of lessons learned from this across the board,” he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Hopefully those who are in charge are going to make the appropriate decisions.”