By Laura French
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans officials have announced that firefighters and EMS personnel who have come in contact with COVID-19 patients will no longer be quarantined for two weeks in order to avoid staffing shortages.
New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said that firefighters exposed to patients who have tested positive will instead be asked to monitor for any symptoms, take their temperature twice daily and wear medical masks, according to The Lens. EMS Spokesperson Jonathon Fourcade said all EMS providers, regardless of exposure, will be wearing masks and monitoring their temperature.
McConnell told The Lens, "We're realizing that isn't possible, it's not realistic, we'll run out of people … we can't afford to have everyone out of the game."
Six New Orleans firefighters were previously placed in at-home quarantine for two weeks after coming into contact with COVID-19 patients, and a total of 14 have been exposed but none have tested positive, according to McConnell.
Five EMS providers previously placed in quarantine have been asked to return to work, according to Fourcade.
McConnell said the new policy is in line with CDC and state and local health department guidelines, and likened firefighters to nurses and doctors who must continue to work despite exposure in order to manage the public health crisis.
The fire department previously announced that firefighters will not be responding to medical calls involving patients with potential COVID-19 symptoms, except in life-threatening situations such as cardiac arrests and vehicle crashes.
The national public health emergency comes at a time of conflict between the city and New Orleans' firefighters union, which has been disputing with the city over pensions, overtime and other personnel issues. McConnell had previously canceled firefighters' vacation leave as firefighters planned to boycott voluntary overtime earlier this year.
Prior to the most recent policy change regarding quarantines, New Orleans Fire Fighters Association President Aaron Mischler told The Lens that firefighters were receiving little direction on how to handle the COVID-19 crisis, but agreed with the policy to pull firefighters from less critical medical calls.
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