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EXCLUSIVE: Fairfax County adjusts fire, EMS staffing with dozens of workers out due to COVID-19

The Bailey’s Crossroads fire station (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Fairfax County saw its largest-ever increase in coronavirus cases among fire and emergency medical responders this month, mirroring a surge in case rates compared to 2020.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department data shows that there are 53 positive cases and 14 in quarantine, all staying at home to curb the spread of COVID-19. That’s the most cases the department has seen at one time, according to county figures as of Sunday (Dec. 26).

After FFXnow published its story this morning, the FCFRD released an update stating that the positive case count has now reached 66 workers.

Increasing cases have forced the department to reduce extra medic units at three stations: Station 8 in Annandale, the Mount Vernon Station 9 in Hybla Valley, and Station 10 in Bailey’s Crossroads.

The fire department also revealed today (Wednesday) that a tower ladder in Franconia is out of service temporarily, and there are special cross-staffing arrangements in place in two hazardous materials units and four tankers.

“Our goal is to return to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible as the number of positive covid cases decline within the department,” Fire Chief John Butler said in a statement following FFXnow’s coverage. “We appreciate the support and patience of our residents and visitors.”

It’s also relying more on volunteers.

“We use volunteers at those 12 partner stations routinely, so this isn’t anything necessarily beyond the norm; it’s just that we’re utilizing them a little more than usual,” FCFRD spokesperson Ashley Hildebrandt said, adding that the volunteers are assisting as needed, such as an extra person or two on a shift.

The department has 1,260 career staff across 38 stations. The three stations that cut medic units typically have two units, so they were reduced to one.

“No one’s without coverage,” Hildebrandt said. “We have a lot of data points, and we looked through a bunch of options to make sure that…no one notices a disruption of service.”

The uptick in infections has not affected any one particular station, but FCFRD says it has made temporary staffing adjustments to keep service as regular as possible.

The department has seen 298 cases overall since COVID-19 became widespread in the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Most new cases in America now consist of the Omicron variant, which might spread more easily than the Delta variant but could be less severe for those fully vaccinated who have also received booster shots, research teams have found.

Most of the cases among Fairfax County’s emergency responders have occurred in 2021. Over 245 cases so far have been logged as fully recovered.

The positive cases mean local rescue workers must stay home for 10 days. That’s based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Fairfax County Health Department.

The CDC, however, changed that timeframe on Monday (Dec. 27), reducing its recommended isolation time from 10 days to five days for asymptomatic individuals, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others. And the county health department announced last night (Tuesday) that it has adjusted its guidance to align with the CDC.

Amidst the changes, Hildebrandt said today (Wednesday) that because the county health department switch just happened, FCFRD has yet to discuss switching its 10-day isolation period for positive cases.

It’s unclear when normal schedules could return, but it depends on a decline in COVID-19 cases, according to the department.

Photo via Google Maps

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