CORONAVIRUS

Positive COVID-19 cases among Corridor first responders remain low

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen Jan. 26 at UnityPoint Family Medicine Clinic in Marion. The state is starting the secon
Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen Jan. 26 at UnityPoint Family Medicine Clinic in Marion. The state is starting the second phase of the coronavirus vaccination program, which includes law enforcement, teachers and people 65 and older. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the early days of the pandemic, the Corridor saw a handful of COVID-19 cases among first responders — mostly those working in law enforcement.

That wasn’t unexpected as emergency workers face a higher risk of exposure simply because their jobs require daily contact with the community.

Despite that risk, the number of COVID-19 infections among first responders in Linn and Johnson counties has stayed relatively low.

Many of the Corridor departments attribute that fact to the mitigation protocols put in place at the start of the pandemic. Ten months later, those protocols still appear to be effective.

Police departments

In Cedar Rapids, 32 people in the police department have tested positive for COVID-19 as of mid-January. All have recovered and returned to work.

The department has 225 police officers, and 155 officers and commanders are assigned to patrol. Public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said the positive cases were among all department employees, including civilians.

In the past 10 months, Buelow said the police department has reported 130 possible COVID exposures, and officers have responded to 2,017 incidents with a caller reporting COVID symptoms.

Calls that involve an individual who has tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19 or who is experiencing symptoms trigger an alert warning officers to don appropriate PPE and minimize contact as much as possible.

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“The numbers of public safety employees that tested positive for COVID-19 are remarkably low considering all the potential exposures and contacts through calls for service,” Buelow said.

In Marion, five officers have tested positive for the virus since March, according to Tom Daubs, the Marion Police Department’s public information officer. All but one of the officers have returned to work. The fifth officer still is recuperating.

At the Iowa City Police Department, Field Operation Commander Denise Brotherton said 14 officers of the department’s 78 sworn personnel have tested positive for COVID-19. All have recovered.

Fire departments

For firefighters, minimizing community contact is unrealistic as a majority of the calls they respond to involve medical emergencies.

Even so, only seven Iowa City firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Fire Chief John Grier.

In Cedar Rapids, 22 firefighters have tested positive. Last summer that number was zero.

Buelow said the fire department has reported 205 possible COVID-19 exposures since March. Firefighters have responded to 1,337 incidents involving a caller reporting COVID symptoms and 1,278 incidents where individuals have been determined to have COVID symptoms on assessment.

Sheriff’s offices and jails

For sheriff’s deputies, the greatest risk may not be patrol, but working in county jails. The job requires extended close contact with patrol officers and deputies, incoming inmates and already-incarcerated inmates on a daily basis.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said 12 non-jail deputies and 22 jail deputies have tested positive for the virus since March, all of whom have recovered and returned to work.

In the jail itself, 48 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and one inmate is currently infected, Gardner said. The other 47 inmates have recovered.

The 401-bed facility roster showed 310 individuals in custody this past week, but county jail populations fluctuate daily as offenders are booked and released.

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In Johnson County, Sheriff Brad Kunkel said six deputies — none of whom work in the jail — have tested positive for the virus. All have recovered.

Remarkably, the Johnson County Jail has remained COVID-free — not one inmate has tested positive since the pandemic began in Iowa in March.

The facility has the capacity to house up to 92 people, according to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office website. The jail’s roster Thursday afternoon showed 67 inmates in custody.

Vaccine distribution

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced earlier this month that Iowa would begin the second phase of its vaccination program the week of Feb. 1.

Phase 1B will include law enforcement, emergency responders, K-12 educators, child care workers and Iowans 65 and older.

Roughly 75 percent of Cedar Rapids firefighters and a handful of Cedar Rapids police officers already have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith reported that 108 of the department’s 144 firefighters have received at least one dose of the two-part vaccine.

Seven Cedar Rapids police officers also have had the first of two shots, Smith reported at a Public Safety Youth Services Committee meeting Monday.

Marion Fire Chief Deb Krebill also reported about 75 percent of the department’s 41 firefighters have received their first vaccinations. That includes the supervisory staff, as many of them — including the chief — still go on calls regularly.

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And in the past week, Grier said, “All (Iowa City Fire Department) members wishing to receive the vaccine have done so.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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