DALLAS, Texas — With the COVID-19 Delta variant spreading and moving fast in Texas, first responders are once again getting infected.
Dallas Fire-Rescue and the Dallas Fire Fighters Association reported Monday that 31 members of the department are now quarantined due to the virus.
Per DFFA, 21 firefighters as of Monday have active cases, and 10 others have had recent exposure to the virus.
DFFA President Jim McDade is worried about staffing shortages, leading to members of his union getting overworked.
Those concerns are amplified by a legal tightrope the department is trying to navigate due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order banning local municipalities or counties from mandating masks.
Current CDC guidelines say that anyone fully vaccinated should get tested 3-5 days following known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and should wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.
But because DFR can’t mandate masks or build a protocol requiring vaccinated firefighters to wear them in firehouses while waiting for a test if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, McDade says potentially vaccinated firefighters currently have to sit at home when exposed due to the governor’s order.
He added that the department is examining the legality of Abbott’s order, which would include allowing firefighters to volunteer to the department that they’re fully vaccinated, so they don’t have to quarantine and can be on duty in a firehouse with a mask.
“There are legal questions regarding how the governor’s orders will affect us since the city cannot mandate that we wear masks or order protocols with masks involved,” McDade said. “There could be some unintended consequences with staffing with his executive action.”
Abbott’s order does allow departments to wear masks while responding to a call, McDade stressed. But there is a gray area regarding the firehouse where firefighters reside while on duty.
“There would need to be a substantial uptick in cases, but with the Delta variant, this looks like it’s coming back,” McDade said. “We have 21 active cases right now, and a few weeks ago, we didn’t have any. So, that’s very concerning.”
Per Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesperson Jason Evans, DFR only had three COVID-19 cases in June, but that number went up to 29 for July.
For August, three cases have already been reported. Two hospitalizations have been recorded since June.
Evans did say the department has roughly 900 fully vaccinated members that it’s aware of. Still, McDade underscored that the department isn’t keeping track of which members are vaccinated and which aren’t.
Westbound on Interstate 30, the Fort Worth Fire Department told WFAA that it had seen an uptick in cases but couldn’t provide specific numbers as of Monday.
Yet, spokesperson Mike Drivdahl said that each firehouse is now on full alert.
“We’ve got a handful of positive cases,” Drivdahl said. “And we have tightened things up a bit, making sure everyone is aware of what’s going on and how the Delta variant is moving.”
Dallas and Fort Worth police are seeing an increase in cases, too.
Since June 1, Dallas police has seen 27 COVID-19 cases and has had three hospitalizations.
Fort Worth police has recorded 19 positive COVID-19 tests since June 1, and 11 remain off work.
An additional 17 employees are currently quarantined.
The department also said that 527 sworn and non-sworn employees have voluntarily notified the City of Fort Worth that they have been fully vaccinated.