GEORGETOWN, Texas — With about 1,000 first responders in different agencies across Williamson County, Georgetown Fire Department (GFD) Chief John Sullivan hopes testing most of them for COVID-19 antibodies will shed some light on the response to the virus.
"The logical next step was to try to understand to what degree there may be asymptomatic spread of this disease among first responders," Sullivan said.
EMS personnel are not required to take the Abbott antibody test. It will not determine if a police officer, firefighter, paramedic or dispatcher currently has the virus, but could show if the person had the virus and developed an immune defense to it.
"It helps us to see the relationship this virus has when we're making patient care," Jean Fuselier, a firefighter/paramedic for GFD, said. "We are constantly being exposed to it, and we do have the proper PPE. But if one of us gets infected, then we come back here to the station and that's an automatic five people that are going to get infected."
Fuselier did not take the test. His son recently tested negative for the virus while going in for a medical visit, so Fuselier felt due to their close contact, he would test negative for the antibodies.
So far, about 60 police officers with Georgetown Police have taken the antibody test, and 110 firefighter/paramedics with GFD have taken it as well. All 170 have tested negative for antibodies, indicating none of them had the coronavirus.
"I was negative," Mikey Braff, another firefighter/paramedic with GFD, said. "I was kind of surprised and a little disappointed because I was hoping if I had it and I already had the antibodies, then less to worry about."
According to Sullivan, the tests and study will determine how effective the PPE for first responders has been in limiting exposure to the virus.
"I would be surprised if we have many that test positive," Sullivan said. "I believe we were fortunate early on to have a good cache of equipment. Our folks have been excellent at conforming to new standards and practices and doing things differently to better protect themselves so we can be safe for those that we are caring for."
The results of the study will determine whether or not EMS agencies will make any changes to policies in place to protect patients and first responders alike.
"On one hand we hope that it's a confirmatory study that shows we have had no spread of the COVID-19 within the ranks of our first responders," Sullivan said. "Conversely, if we start to see that there has been some spread of this, the study is intended to help us identify what type of symptoms were shown that fell below the radar."
Over the next few weeks, EMS agencies in Hutto, Pflugerville, Cedar Park, Round Rock and Williamson County will start giving tests to their personnel who want to take them, according to Sullivan. Results only take a few days to determine. According to Braff, he took the test on Wednesday and got results on Friday. The test draws blood instead of a finger prick.
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