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The unions representing cops, firefighters and EMS officers are urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to make them a higher priority for access to coronavirus testing given their front-line duties interacting with the public amid the pandemic.
Ninety-eight NYPD officers and other employees and 17 Fire Department/Emergency Medical Service personnel have tested positive for COVID-19.
The leaders of the unions endorsed a letter sent to City Hall sent by Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island-Brooklyn) about the need to expand testing first responders.
The letter was co-signed by James LeMonda, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Officers Association, Gerard Fitzgerald, head of the United Firefighters Association, Paul DiGiacomo of the Detectives Endowment Association, Louis Turco of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, Edward Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association and Vincent Variale of the Uniformed Emergency Medical Services Officers Union.
In the letter, the congressman and labor leaders for the uninformed officers agree that New Yorkers who are already sick or hospitalized and health care workers who treat them must be the first priority for COVID-19 testing – but add that the uniformed forces should be next in line.
“As we all work to dramatically expand capacity for more and faster testing, we understand that patients whose symptoms are severe enough to require hospitalization and healthcare workers with serious symptoms are being prioritized for testing. We simply ask that first responders be the next group prioritized so that our first responders can continue to do their work and keep our city safe. We appreciate your prompt attention to this critical issue,” they said.
When asked about the call for increased testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said a press conference Sunday, “The entire testing system is based on the priority of the needs.”
Rose also told The Post: “There are nearly entire firehouses in quarantine right now. We have dozens of cops, firefighters and first responders who have already tested positive for COVID-19. We need to make sure the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe and maintain order during this pandemic are able to quickly get tested when needed. This is a matter of public safety, both for those they serve with and for those in the community.”
The letter to de Blasio also says, “These men and women wake up every morning, put on their uniform and go to work—they do not have the option to work from home. Nor do they have jobs where they can remain secluded away from other people. As they are required to interact with the public and with each other, their health is critical to our city functioning.”
The union leaders and Rose also complained that first responders who have been tested have had to wait several days for the results.
“We hope you agree that this delay is unacceptable and that we must do better,” they said.
But the city Health Department has strict guidelines on testing, in part because of a shortage of protective gear in hospitals and test kits.
Last week, the NYPD did offer testing to cops feeling ill but they ran out of test kits by noon.
“Outpatient testing must not be encouraged, promoted or advertised,” a March 20 memo from Demetre Daskalakis, the deputy health commissioner, to health providers said.
“There is no reason to test asymptomatic persons or mild-to-moderately ill persons who are not hospitalized, including HCW or first responders. Healthcare resources must be saved to treat the sickest patients who require inpatient and critical care,” the memo said.
“There is a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), collection swabs, and viral transport media supplies and it is critical that laboratory testing be prioritized for hospitalized patients.”
An NYPD spokesman, in a statement, did not directly address the testing issue.
“Obviously, the coronavirus is having a significant impact on all aspects of our lives. The Police Department is no less affected. First and fore-most we are providing for the safety and education of our members. Supplies can be scarce as a crisis unfolds, but we are doing our utmost to ensure personal protective gear is in the hands of the members of our department,” said Detective Denise Moroney.
“We are seeing our sick numbers rise, but not dramatically. And it is certainly nothing we can’t handle. Remember, we have approximately 36,000 uniformed officers and about 19000 civilians. We are seeing a sick rate of around five percent.”