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Some county first responders testing positive for COVID-19


It’s been another record week for Indian River County and the barrier island, and not just because of the rising COVID-19 case count nearing the 1,000-person mark as the week began. We’ve entered a new, somewhat inevitable stage in the pandemic locally: The helpers are now catching it and getting sick.

COVID-19 can spread rapidly through the ranks of first responders, making it challenging to staff police and fire-rescue departments and provide critical services to keep the public safe.

Up until the past couple of weeks, our local police and fire agencies had been virtually untouched by COVID-19, but as the news of escalating daily numbers rolled in from the Florida Department of Health, cases emerged among our uniformed personnel.

This week, we learned that seven employees of the Indian River County Emergency Services District have tested positive along with seven employees of the Sheriff’s Office. And we know from statements in court that Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has at least one emergency room technician out with COVID-19 (see related story).

All but two of the Emergency Services District employees have recovered and returned to work, said Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Yelvington on Monday. To beat back the spread of the virus in the living quarters where firefighters and paramedics spend their 24-hour shifts, the county is not just wiping down surfaces.

“We use a Durisan electrostatic fogger that provides for the safe decontamination and a preventative for the units and the fire stations,” Yelvington said. “We fog stations and office areas every other week or so and all of our personnel are screened twice a day, beginning when they arrive for their shift, and again 12 hours after, essentially at 0800 hours and 2000 hours each shift day. Additionally, all crews are wearing masks while on duty, even around stations.”

One of the Sheriff’s Office employees was attending an ATV training course when he got his positive test result, so several employees at the training were told to go home and isolate.

So far, so good, said Undersheriff Jim Harpring on Monday. “There are no positive tests related to the ATV training (other than the original individual who tested positive), though we are still awaiting results from two individuals at that training. They are asymptomatic and we are told that those tests will likely come back negative.”

Neither agency would release the number of employees at home isolating due to COVID-19 exposure. Harpring said that number for the Sheriff’s Office is a moving target. “As to the numbers that are out due to an exposure, that number is fluid and changes daily based on the date that an individual would have been originally placed on leave.”

One COVID-19 case could take out an entire shift of firefighters at one station, so the county is activating isolation protocols only when an employee has symptoms.

As of press time, Indian River Shores had two employees out in isolation, awaiting test results, but no positive cases yet in its small Public Safety Department, according to Chief Rich Rosell.

The Vero Beach Police Department has no positive cases of COVID-19 among its personnel, according to Public Information Officer Darrell Rivers.