As COVID-19 cases across Connecticut continue to climb, first responders in eastern Connecticut are asking for more regular access to COVID-19 testing.
Members of the Region 4 EMS Council, covering New London County and parts of Windham County, are working to secure weekly, in-station testing for their members.
"If a responder has an exposure at work and they become sick we can get testing pretty ready available, but the testing that I am trying to get established for us is surveillance screening to test providers weekly," said Maria Wilson, who serves as the president of Region 4 EMS Council. "Catch those asymptomatic carriers before they have the chance to potentially infect the rest of their stations."
Wilson, with the support of other organizations in Region 4, wrote a letter to state leaders last week asking for help establishing a program for first responders to have easier access to free asymptomatic testing in their stations.
Referencing the rising number of COVID-19 cases in southeastern Connecticut and the number of Red Alert towns in the area, Wilson explained that regular testing for first responders has never been more important.
"Losing responders at a time like this is the last thing any community can afford to do," Wilson wrote.
Several fire departments and EMS providers sent letters of support for the request including Jewett City Fire Department.
"Testing in house is the way to go, I think," said Louis Demicco, Chief of the Jewett City Fire Department.
Demicco said that it can be tough for his volunteers to make it to a testing site during the day. If funding from the state is provided, he envisions testing his members at their weekly training meeting.
If there is an outbreak of cases, Demicco said that he worries how it would affect a department of their small size.
"It could take out half of the department and who is going to respond if half of the department is out?" said Demicco
Demicco added that another one of their concerns is bringing the virus home to family members.
In New London, 11 firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks. Chief Tom Curcio said that his firefighters got sick despite wearing PPE and following strict protocols. He said that he supports the idea of surveillance testing for first responders.
“They are bringing it home to their families and their family members are all getting sick and starting to test positive as well," explained Curcio.
The state's chief operating officer, Josh Geballe, said that there are ongoing conversations about how to make testing more available to first responders. He did not provide information on timeline.
“We know that our first responders are a critical part of our response efforts," said Geballe.
Ledge Light Health District, covering parts of New London County, has been working with testing providers to offer a priority line for first responders when possible.
Wilson said that is a step in the right direction. She hopes regular surveillance testing can come to stations soon.
"So we can catch everybody," said Wilson.