Pa. county to flag COVID-19 patients' addresses in 911 database
First responders will also be provided a daily list of addresses of people who have tested positive for COVID-19
ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Allegheny County will begin flagging the addresses of confirmed COVID-19 cases in its 911 database as a way of notifying first responders about potential exposure.
Dr. Debra Bogen, director of Allegheny County Health Department, said in a letter sent Tuesday to county Emergency Services Director Matthew Brown that the health department would provide a daily list of addresses for people with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The addresses will be flagged for coronavirus and entered into the county’s 911 database so dispatchers can share the alert with first responders, according to the letter.
The alerts will expire after 30 days.
Pittsburgh officials including Mayor Bill Peduto and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich in recent weeks have voiced repeated concerns that first responders were not being notified about potential exposure with infected people. They described the situation as a public health risk, saying personnel could be exposed while on the job without knowledge and spread the virus to family members and the public.
Pittsburgh firefighters and paramedics have been quarantined for periods in recent days, but none has tested positive, officials said.
“We are continuing to conduct case investigations for all positive cases, which means we interview the case and ask about their contacts,” Bogen wrote. “As we have already been doing, if we learn of any first responders that were or may have been exposed, we will reach out to that responder-public safety personnel and provide appropriate advice.”
Bogen stressed first responders should assume all calls have the potential for COVID-19 exposure and they should take all precautions.
That is exactly what first responders at Murrysville Medic One are doing, according to administrative director Darrick Gerano.
“EMS that comes into contact, treats and possibly transports (an infected patient) should be notified by the hospital under the Ryan White CARE Act,” Gerano said. “There’s some concern that if someone tests positive at one of the testing sites, and is not treated by EMS or transported to a hospital, we are not notified due to HIPAA (federal health privacy regulations).”
Gerano said he had some concerns early on during the pandemic, “but now we are treating every patient as if they were suspected COVID-19,” he said. “So the safety measures we are taking now wouldn’t change.”
Ralph Sicuro, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1 in Pittsburgh, said county notifications would help but would not provide complete coverage for public safety personnel.
“It’s never going to be perfect, but it is a mechanism that will assist us in doing our job in a safe and effective manner,” Sicuro said.
The Pennsylvania Health Department has said it could no longer trace COVID-19 cases because of overwhelming numbers.
The state has nearly 5,000 cases, including 325 in Allegheny County and 61 in Westmoreland County.
“I think it probably is better handled at the county level because it reduces the amount of cases that have to be tracked by one source,” Sicuro said.
The union chief said 23 firefighters have been quarantined at different times.
“We had one member who has been waiting for his test results for days, days,” Sicuro said. “He is off until the results come back.”
©2020 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)