As the coronavirus pandemic continues to put many people at risk, first responders find themselves in situations of exposure regularly.
But thanks to new funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are now additional means for these frontliners to quarantine themselves if needed.
Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver recently signed an order that required non-congregant shelter to be made available to forest responders who need shelter. This includes law enforcement, emergency management personnel, Emergency Medical Service workers and certain public health workers.
The order is necessary because first responders are in close contact with many different individuals who could have the coronavirus, Oliver said. This puts them at a greater risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others
Following this order, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management announced on Friday that Virginia would receive funding to provide hotel accommodations for first responders throughout the state.
The funding allows for reimbursements to localities to be made under FEMA’s Public Assistance program.
However, the city of Williamsburg does not have any plans to receive federal and state funding for housing first responders, said Lee Ann Hartmann, spokeswoman for the city. Hartmann said there hasn’t been a need for these rooms.
Nor does York County for that matter.
“I checked with our fire chief and he told me that we don’t currently have a need for hotel accommodations for first responders,” Gail Whittaker, spokeswoman for York County, wrote in an email on Monday.
But some localities were already offering this service.
In James City County, first responders have had the opportunity to quarantine themselves in hotels since the virus first came to the area, said Scott Stevens, county administrator.
Since the virus was detected in the area, The James City County Fire Department has had 13 individuals in quarantine and the James City County Police Department has had 10 employees in quarantine, according to data from Rene Dallman, spokeswoman for the county.
However, there haven’t been any that have taken up the offer.
“We said if we had an employee that needed to go to a hotel, we would provide that for them,” Stevens said. “And we’ve had a few people quarantined, but to my knowledge they would rather be in quarantine at home.”
He added that currently the county doesn’t have the ability to force people to stay in hotels if they’re under quarantine — the decision is made on a person-by-person basis.
“I could tell in my household that my spouse would rather me be at home where they could take care of me,” Stevens said. “Most of the time, in my experience, your family wants to be fairly close by to make sure you’re okay. So we don’t dictate [how to quarantine] right now but for those who were concerned, we wanted to have that option.”
Stevens said he hadn’t heard yet of the new assistance program but as the county hasn’t already incurred any costs from offering the shelter, so far there isn’t any reimbursement that would need to be made. Moving forward Stevens said the county would take the opportunity for any funding and use it for these services as necessary.
When programs like this become available, Stevens said typically localities will hear about it through the media first and then information will be dispensed overtime as individual governments meet and plan how to participate.
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