Eight Long Beach firefighters test positive for COVID-19

Eight Long Beach firefighters are in self-isolation at home after testing positive for COVID-19, city officials said Wednesday.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia in a news conference said the firefighters all worked at Fire Station 11, at 160 E. Market St. in North Long Beach. The station was closed Wednesday for sanitation and was expected to reopen by 6 p.m., officials said.

The new cases bring the total to 41 confirmed cases in Long Beach. Four of the firefighters are Long Beach residents and are included in that total. Four others are residents of other areas.

Garcia said the city is doing “everything it can” to support to the firefighters and their families.

“Our Long Beach Firefighters are community heroes, and they have been on the frontlines every day of this health crisis,” Garcia said. “We recognize the seriousness of this latest development and are committed to doing all that we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Long Beach.”

Long Beach City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said other fighters may also have been exposed and are awaiting test results. The Health Department will be conducting additional testing as needed.

“The treatment of these firefighters, along with all of our current positive cases, remains our highest priority,” City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement. “We are aware of the impact of these results on our community and understand the significant concerns this news brings. We are working diligently to identify potential situations where additional exposure may have occurred.”

Officials said the news should not deter the public from calling 9-1-1 when they need emergency assistance.

“This is what we signed up for,” said Rex Pritchard, president of the Long Beach Firefighters Association, who still works on an engine himself.

Having firefighters taken out of the rotation because of COVID-19 exposure has put a strain on the system, but that’s nothing new, said Pritchard, who said firefighters often get called away to wildfires or other emergencies outside the city.

“We have firefighters working extra hours and they will continue to work extra hours,” he said.

The city’s public safety dispatchers are asking additional COVID-19 screening questions for all calls that request or require in-person contact.

Across the nation, it’s been a struggle to get firefighters the protective medical gear they need for those types of calls, but Pritchard said LBFD crews have the supplies they need for now.

“As we wage this war on COVID-19 in our community, we do it with the understanding that there is significant risk to our personnel as we respond to the needs of those we serve,” Fire Chief Xavier Espino said in a statement. “The health of our public safety personnel is being monitored daily and we will continue to provide the necessary support to our employees and their families as we move forward.” 

Los Angeles County reported Wednesday it has a total of 799 positive cases. So far 13 people in the county have died.

Health officials said 40% percent of county cases are people between 18 and 40, and 20% of all cases in the county (160 people) have required hospitalization.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].