An outbreak of coronavirus at Riley County EMS has infected at least six employees, an official confirmed Saturday. And some Manhattan firefighters with whom EMS shares stations are quarantining at a local hotel because of exposure to one of the infected people.
David Adams, Emergency Medical Services/Ambulance director for Riley County, said six employees — two people in administrative positions and four EMTs — tested positive last week. Three more are awaiting test results.
He said that the first person tested positive on Tuesday or Wednesday. Results for the last three came in Friday, he said.
“This has come down the pike in the last 18 or 24 hours,” he said Saturday evening.
He said that although contact tracing is not complete, officials believe the first person was infected by community spread — that is, that the source of the virus is unknown.
“The person we believe brought it into our building has not had any contact with a COVID-positive patient,” he said.
He said EMTs take precautions with masks and other personal protective equipment, and they always put masks on patients when they first arrive on the scene.
“We’re confident there’s not been any exposure or any risk to the public,” he said. “We have quite a few staff home, waiting on test results.”
Manhattan Fire Department chief Scott French said two crews, or nine total members of the fire department, are self-quarantining because of “low-risk” exposure to one of the infected EMS employees, who was wearing a mask but was around firefighters.
“We went ahead and had them quarantine because we can’t get them tested until (Sunday),” French said.
He said he gave the firefighters the option to quarantine at a local hotel. The department pays for that becuse it’s an on-duty exposure, he said. The department also will have to pay for some additional staff time to cover for the quarantined personnel.
EMS has four stations. Two of the stations are shared with with the fire department. The stations are set up more or less like houses with some common living areas, French said.
Though people there already were trying to keep a distance and wear masks at the station, Adams said some interaction is almost unavoidable in that environment.
Adams said EMS has had no change in operations and still has four staffed ambulances ready to go at any time.
EMS has 27 full-time employees. He said some people have put in overtime, and part-timers have stepped up to help fill openings.
Some employees have been allowed to work even after exposure to the virus, said an EMS employee who first told The Mercury of the outbreak. The employee spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Even though they share a truck, one person wasn’t tested until several days after his partner’s positive case,” the employee said. “They let him work on that truck the whole time.”
There were also concerns about employees covering for sick people at different stations, which led to exposure at multiple stations.
“They’ve chosen to contaminate everybody instead of protecting employees and the people of the city,” the employee said.
Adams said EMS didn’t necessarily send home everyone who was exposed to people who tested positive; it depended on the type of exposure.
“I’m comfortable with how we’ve handled this,” Adams said. “With the caution, with all the testing. If (employees) were in the same room, same building (as someone who was positive), they were allowed to stay to work but wear mask at all times.
“We have been working very very closely with Riley County Health Departments and followed their guidelines,” Adams said. “Anybody with symptoms was sent home immediately.”