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Coronavirus In Illinois: Chicago Fire Department Paramedic Tests Positive For COVID-19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- First responders are the first to run into danger, and a Chicago paramedic is now first among the city's emergency personnel to test positive for the coronavirus.

The city doesn't believe the paramedic who tested positive contracted COVID-19 while responding to a call, but he is now quarantined along with his partner. The firefighters' union is calling for the entire house to be quarantined, but there's no word if that will happen, although the city has said the station is being cleaned and disinfected, including any equipment or vehicles he used while symptomatic.

"The Chicago Fire Department continues to work closely with the CDPH and follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC)guidelines as we ensure proper protocols and preventative measures are in place for the health and safety of our firefighters and paramedics. As part of that effort, the Department has ensured that all firefighters and paramedics responding to emergency calls have been provided with personal protective equipment – or PPE – specially designated to keep them safe during this time," Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II wrote in a department-wide memo.

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The paramedic who tested positive for coronavirus worked his shift Saturday, started feeling sick Sunday, and got a positive test Monday.

"This can get out of hand real fast, and many of our members and our families can become infected," reads an internal email from the president of the firefighters' union.

The city also is reaching out to anyone who has recently come into close contact with the paramedic to request that they self-quarantine, according to CDC guidelines on COVID-19.

"We will be reaching out to anyone this member helped transport," Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

The Fire Department also is providing guidance to all employees, urging them to contact their medical provider immediately if they have a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a cough, or mild shortness of breath. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home from work, and anyone with severe symptoms -- such as difficult, rapid, or labored breathing; blueness around their mouth or nails; or severe dehydration -- should go to the emergency room or call 911 right away.

Recent service calls for breathing problems and other possible COVID-19 symptoms also have created concern for the safety of the men and women of the Chicago Fire Department who have to respond.

While the department has given firefighters and paramedics protective gear and masks, a source within the department said those masks haven't been spray tested, which ensures a proper fit. At least one firefighter refuses to go on calls.

A source within the Fire Department also said firefighters aren't getting the results of COVID-19 tests from people they come into contact with on the job who are showing symptoms, leaving them unsure of whether or not to quarantine.

Chicago's 911 operators are expected to begin screening some callers for symptoms of the coronavirus.

The Chicago Police Department academy also has been cleared out. Recruits were seen leaving the facility on Tuesday with loads of gear. The recruits will work as support staff at police districts as the academy closes for some time.


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