First ATCEMS employee to test positive for COVID-19 confirmed

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Chief of Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services confirms a paramedic tested positive for COVID-19. This announcement came on the first day its stay-at-home ordinance is in effect.

Chief of ATCEMS Ernesto Rodriguez said the employee is the first public safety worker to test positive for the virus in the Austin region.

“It is important that the community understand that front-line workers, community health workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, all of us are serving an important role in our community and because we are so front line and we are seeing people who do have the virus the risk is very high that we can become infected too,” said Rodriguez.

He added, “And we just wanted to ask everyone to help us, and the best thing people can do to help us is to follow the directives that have been issued by our public health agencies and practice social distancing, wash your hands, limit your contact, don’t go anywhere unless you have to, because the fewer infections we experience in the community the fewer things that happen to us as health care workers.”

Selena Xie, President of Austin EMS Association said, “She’s doing okay. Still has symptoms, and we’re just working through them, but we’ve been bringing care packages to her. Just making sure she has everything she needs.”

Xie said they can’t say exactly how the medic got the virus.

“Being in EMS, we presume that any positive COVID test is probably going to be related to a call,” Xie explained. “There are a lot of people that are spreading the disease while asymptomatic. It might actually be someone who broke their arm. It might be someone who has chest pain.”

According to Xie, medics wear gowns, goggles and masks to protect themselves.

“Our medics are all acting extremely professional, they’re extremely brave right now, but privately, we all have the same concerns that everybody else has,” Xie said. “Bringing it home to loved ones, bring it home to young kids… So for sure, the stress is a little bit greater. But our job is dangerous in a pandemic and not in a pandemic.”

Xie told KXAN medics have been taking extra precautions to try to minimize their risks.

“Our medics are not even wearing their uniform inside the house,” Xie said. “A lot of them change out of the uniform at station before they go home. A lot of them change out as soon as they get home. They shower as soon as they home. Don’t wear the shoes that they were wearing at work inside the house either.”

Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett also provided updates on current efforts to contain the coronavirus in the Austin Travis County area and keep front line paramedics safe.

“We are taking every step possible to protect our first responders from the virus as they encounter patients, as chief Rodriguez said, we factor in that we may encounter infectious disease everyday on the job and we are taking every step possible to protect our first responders through our PPE, through our procedures, through determining the number of first responders to send on a given call to make sure we keep them safe.”

Pickett also said that out of all the cases of COVID-19 in Travis County, only three are in the hospital, while the rest are recovering at their homes.

ATCEMS has set up a relief fund to help employees who can’t work during the outbreak.

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