Seattle firefighters and police officers with symptoms of COVID-19 can now receive testing at a designated City location in South Seattle
SEATTLE (March 19, 2020) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, and Police Chief Carmen Best today announced the nation’s first COVID-19 testing for first responders, conducted by first responders. The pilot program began on March 14 for Seattle firefighters and police officers and similar models are expanding in the coming weeks throughout the county.
First Responders who have been placed in isolation and are showing symptoms of COVID-19 are prioritized and eligible for testing at this new site. The City is also allowing neighboring fire department personnel and private ambulance company employees who are symptomatic to receive testing as capacity allows with approval from their own agency’s leadership.
“Our first responders are on the frontlines of this pandemic, working around the clock to respond to the needs of Seattle’s communities and it is of the upmost importance to ensure that they are safe and have the equipment they need,” said Mayor Durkan. “Limited access to testing hampered our ability to respond and made protecting our most vulnerable communities and saving lives a challenge. Chief Scoggins and Seattle Fire Departments didn’t wait for the federal government – they acted, and I am grateful for their leadership to keep our first responders safe. A pandemic response requires robust testing and modeling so leaders can escalate effective, science-based policies, and access to the proper equipment to protect our frontline workers. This pilot is a very promising pivot in the right direction and will help us combat the spread of COVID-19.”
Personnel are instructed to drive to the site in their personal vehicles at a designated time and are tested by Seattle Fire Department (SFD) and Seattle Police Department (SPD) emergency medical technicians through the vehicle window. Testing takes approximately one to two minutes and consists of taking nasal swabs. The testing swabs are sent to the University of Washington Virology lab for processing, and results are received within 72 hours. Personnel administering the tests are wearing a more durable level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to minimize PPE consumption during the process of collecting nasal swabs.
Testing for first responders at this site was approved on March 13 by the Washington State Department of Health and is funded by King County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the City of Seattle. First responders were initially trained on March 14. The site currently has capacity to test over 50 first responders per day. As of March 18, a total of 38 local first responders have received testing at this site.
“We are working diligently to protect our personnel so we can continue to respond to the medical needs of our community. This new testing site allows us to prioritize testing for our firefighters and professional staff, and police officers who have symptoms of COVID-19 to help them on the road to recovery and maintain full staffing,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “I want to thank our SFD Medical Director Dr. Michael Sayre, and the King County Emergency Medical Services Program Director Dr. Thomas Rea for their help on moving this idea forward and into implementation.”
“These critical tests are administered to first responders by first responders,” said Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. “This system was designed by police and fire from the ground up to ensure our first responders are effectively positioned to provide continuous service to our community.”
Seattle fire and police departments remain fully operational but have already seen impacts to the workforce. First responders are on the frontlines of helping community members in need and are wearing enhanced PPE to protect themselves and the people they respond to.
“Since the beginning of March, when this pandemic broke out in the Seattle area, I’ve sought the priority testing of our first responders who put their lives on the line every day and who have an increased risk of exposure because of their work,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, District 1 (West Seattle/South Park). “I am glad to see that our first responders not only have priority testing but are able to conduct the tests themselves in order to expedite the process.”
SFD has been notified by Public Health – Seattle & King County of numerous incidents between late February and mid-March where the patients they treated have since tested positive for COVID-19. Each time a notification is received of a positive COVID-19 case, an immediate and thorough investigation of the incident is conducted to determine if any other individuals were exposed. As of March 19, 24 SFD members are currently either in quarantine (if asymptomatic) or isolation (showing symptoms) as a precaution. There are 60 Seattle Police employees in quarantine, and one is in isolation. They remain on leave until 14 days from their initial exposure have passed. Those who develop symptoms can now be tested at this new designated location.
Since the beginning of tracking COVID-19 responses, 45 SFD members have been impacted; 21 have completed their 14-day quarantine and have been approved to return to work. The department wants to stress the importance of the public relaying if they have a cough, fever or difficulty breathing when calling 911 for something other than COVID-19 (i.e. fall or vehicle collision), to allow personnel to respond with the appropriate protective equipment.