PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — A Portsmouth firefighter recently tested positive for the Coronavirus or COVID-19. This is the first reported positive case for a town employee in Portsmouth.
According to Town Administrator Richard A. Rainer, the firefighter was first sent home last Tuesday, March 24, after failing to pass a screening protocol.
He was put on immediate 72-hour watch. The protocol involved a Town Hall screening for coughing, sneezing, travel history, and temperature.
In addition, town employees who had contact with him were also put on a 14-day self-quarantine at home. Among those ordered to self-quarantine were eight employees from the Portsmouth Fire Department, including seven firefighters, and two employees from the Portsmouth Police Department.
The self-quarantine will reduce the Portsmouth Fire Department’s staff by 18%; however, this number is misleading, according to Rainer, since the employees can return to work after 14 days. “We are taking a very cautious approach,” wrote the town administrator.
In addition, Rainer sent the following email to media outlets on Sunday:
We received word yesterday [Saturday, March 28] of our first positive COVID-19 case among staff. The person who tested positive is a firefighter. He was sent home last Tuesday [March 24] after failing to pass the daily protocol and put on a 72 hour watch (every employee and person entering Town buildings must be screened for coughing, sneezing, travel history, and temperature). His shift is not due back to work until Tuesday (3/31/20) so he has been away from work since being sent home. We have no indication where or how the virus was contracted. This type of analyses will be handled by RI DOH.
There is no current impact on our public safety readiness. At the outset of this crises every Town department prepared continuity of operations plans – to include a plan to continue providing services in the event employees contract the virus. Exercising prudent caution, and in accordance with guidance from the RI Department of Health, we placed the employees he had direct interaction with on 14 day self-quarantine at home. These employees are asymptomatic. This is back dated from the date of symptoms (3/23/20). They all are required to remain in self-quarantine until 4/6/20. If they have no symptoms they can return to work 4/7/20.
Because of the plans put in place at the beginning of the outbreak, there is no impact on our ability to provide service to the Town. Asymptomatic employees directed to self-quarantine could be allowed to return to work earlier than next Tuesday (4/7/20) by adhering to protocols set by CDC and RIDOH but there is no need and we have decided to maintain a cautious approach.