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First Responders To Get Additional COVID-19 Information Before Responding To A Call

Allegheny County first responders are now being given more information about their risk of being exposed to COVID-19 when taking emergency calls.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Debra Bogen sent a letter to county Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown on Tuesday proposing that he will be provided a daily list of addresses of known positive cases for COVID-19. The addresses would be entered into the county’s 9-1-1 database with a COVID flag, so that dispatchers can relay them to first responders.

In a public statement, the county emphasized that responders will not be given the names of those infected with the virus -- just the address -- and that responders should treat every call as if it had the possibility for exposure. 

The move comes after union representatives for some first-responders raised concern about members having to self-isolate after potentially being exposed to the virus.

Fraternal Order of Police Local 1 President Bob Swartzwelder said that for Pittsburgh police, a lack of notification was a serious concern. At the time, several officers had self-isolated after they thought they had been exposed to COVID-19.

“First responders could become a carrier,” Swartzwelder said. “You have a medical condition that might spread; this is unique and unprecedented circumstances.”

The county said it will continue to conduct case investigations for all positive cases, which involves interviewing the person who tested positive and asking about who they have been in contact with.

“If we learn of any first responders that were or may have been exposed, we will reach out … and provide appropriate advice” to the responder, Bogen said in the letter. 

Ralph Sicuro, president of the city’s firefighters union, said they he’s happy responders can get the information they requested. But he said members of the public should tell dispatchers if they have symptoms of the illness, which include fever and a dry cough.

“We think this will add another layer of protection to our first responders who are out there every day,” he said. “The public still needs to do their part as symptoms arise. When they call 9-1-1 – even if they haven’t tested positive – we need to know of those symptoms for when we arrive.”

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Ariel finally made a “big move” 45 minutes down the interstate to the University of Alabama where she studied Journalism and International Studies. During her time in college she interned with Tuscaloosa News, a daily newspaper in her college town. After college, she got her first job back in her hometown with Birmingham Times, a weekly where she served as reporter and editor. Ariel made an even bigger move to Pittsburgh and joined the 90.5 WESA family as digital producer. She is adjusting to experiencing actual cold weather.