By Adam Strunk
Three Newton Fire/EMS employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Any coworkers exposed will continue working to make sure the city can respond to emergencies.
The city released the information Thursday afternoon, stating that while the department had remained COVID-19 free since the start of the outbreak, it believes a family member infected one of its employees, which has led to three confirmed cases in the department.
“It’s a testament to the diligent work of our staff that our department has gone this long without a positive case,” Fire/EMS Chief Steve Roberson said. “But like any other frontline workers, we’re not immune to this virus, and I’m thankful that our employees are doing well so far.”
According to the city, the three employees infected will be isolating, and the Harvey County Health Department is notifying any of the close contacts they might have had.
City of Newton Director of Communications Erin McDaniel explained that their co-workers who were exposed will continue to report into work.
“We filed this plan with the health department early on that allowed for essential health care workers to continue to work even after an exposure,” she said.
Approximately 50 people work for the department. McDaniel explained that Fire/EMS employees were needed in case of an emergency. If those exposed go into quarantine, the city could end up short on help, should an emergency strike.
According to the city release, while close exposures can continue working, “personnel must remain free of symptoms, wear a mask, adhere to isolation/quarantine guidelines when away from work, and maintain a daily screening log of temperature/symptoms for submission to the health department.”
McDaniel said masks will now be worn by Fire/EMS employees when they’re on their 24 shifts in the fire house. She said that they will be protected by the proper personal protective equipment on calls and do everything they can to mitigate the spread of the disease.
“They’re very used to the idea of responding to cases in the community with infectious diseases,” she said of Fire/EMS Staff. “It’s not anything new to them.”
According to the release, since March, the city has provided employees in all departments access to hand sanitizer, gloves and masks, and directed employees who feel ill or display COVID-19 symptoms not to come to work.
Roberson said that the department will be able to handle future emergencies in a safe manner.
“The public should rest assured that when they dial 911, someone will be there to provide safe and effective care when they need it,” Roberson said.
Roberson urged the public to stay active in fighting the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
“We are all tired of this pandemic, but our cases continue to rise at an alarming rate,” he said. “Please keep taking those small actions – avoid gatherings, wear a face mask in public, and wash your hands frequently.”