Coronavirus quarantines more than 2 dozen Washington State firefighters

More than two dozen firefighters in Washington State have been quarantined after they were possibly exposed to the novel coronavirus, which has killed at least six people in the state to date.

The city of Kirkland on Monday announced that 27 firefighters and two police officers are in quarantine. Some of the firefighters are “demonstrating flu-like symptoms,” the city said in a press release. 

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“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,” said the release.

The first responders were possibly exposed to the virus after responding to the outbreak at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle nursing home that has become a local epicenter of the novel virus, the Wall Street Journal reported. Firefighters and police officers were not aware the virus was present at the nursing home when responding to “multiple calls for patients in distress” last week, according to the outlet.

At least eight elderly residents at the home have tested positive, while four have died. Overall, 27 residents and 25 staff members have reported symptoms of the virus, which are said to include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The King County health department currently requires first responders to wear facemasks when treating those with fever or respiratory symptoms, or when treating someone who has recently traveled to China or has come into contact with someone who has. But the first responders were not told by dispatchers to wear the masks at the time they responded to calls because “residents at the facility didn’t appear to fit the criteria [for coronavirus] in recent weeks,” the Journal reported.

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“I’ve stopped kissing my family,” firefighter Dustin Hill, one of those who responded to the home, told the Journal. But, he noted, “If I’ve exposed them, it’s done.”

Another firefighter, Darren DeBore, told the outlet that he went back to get a facemask after seeing other staff and medics wearing them at the nursing home. But he was informed last Friday that he had to be quarantined, after responding to at least a dozen more calls since treating those at Life Care Center of Kirkland. He has since been placed in isolation, away from his wife, who is pregnant with their third child. (Pregnant women may be more susceptible to the virus due to  “immunologic and physiologic changes” while expecting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.)

Doug Stern, a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, told the Journal that the union has since asked county health officials to change the protocol to warn first responders to wear protective gear when treating people with flu-like symptoms. Additionally, city and county officials said Monday they plan to buy a motel where coronavirus patients can recover in isolation.

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The news comes after Washington State officials on Monday announced six coronavirus-related deaths. Overall, more than 80 cases of the virus have been reported in the country.

Worldwide, more than 91,000 people have been sickened, while more than 3,000 have died, according to Tuesday estimates.