Nassau, Northwell prioritize first responders as coronavirus rages

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145 NCPD officers had tested positive for coronavirus, while 158 officers are in quarantine and 187 officers have recovered from the virus or come out of quarantine and returned to work.(Photo courtesy of Nassau County Police Department)

Northwell Health has opened a call center specifically serving first responders and healthcare employees and begun fast-tracking these workers as a top priority for testing, evaluation and care in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

First responders, including police officers and firefighters, are at the front lines of the pandemic in Nassau. Leaders at the county and local levels, as well as in the healthcare sector, are working to ensure that they have access to the proper protective supplies and services that they need.

Northwell Health GoHealth Urgent Care has agreements with several police, fire, emergency medical services and healthcare agencies, including the Nassau County Police Department, to provide streamlined services for workers engaged in the battle against the coronavirus. On Tuesday, Northwell announced that first responders and front-line healthcare workers would be given priority access to testing, evaluation and care.

“Now more than ever, it’s important that we give those on the front lines fighting COVID-19 immediate access to any health care services they may need,” said Adam Boll, executive director of joint venture operations at Northwell Health. “Ensuring that all health care providers and first responders get the evaluation, care and testing they need, when they need it is the only way we all get through this crisis together.”

Northwell Health-GoHealth opened a call center Monday explicitly serving participating emergency response and health care agencies. Employees can call a dedicated phone number to schedule appointments for a range of comprehensive medical exams and diagnostic tests, including coronavirus testing.

As of Monday afternoon, 145 NCPD officers had tested positive for coronavirus, according to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. Some 158 officers are in quarantine, and 187 officers have recovered from the virus or come out of quarantine and returned to work. In the sheriff’s department, there are currently 46 positive cases.

The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association called for more protection for police officers from COVID-19 in a letter to Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder April 5. Efforts to reach Ryder were unavailing.

At an April 7 press conference, the Nassau PBA asked that police administration double down on decontamination efforts and the sanitation of prisoner areas in particular. The PBA said officers appear to have enough personal protection equipment.

“We have police officers out there that have diabetes, heart conditions, respiratory problems, 9/11 illnesses, and we also have female officers that are pregnant that we have to be concerned with,” Nassau PBA President James McDermott told reporters Tuesday. “We’re in a very scary situation here, and we’re trying to limit the exposures as best we can and keep our cops safe.”

Antibody tests were supposed to become available to NCPD officers last week, according to county officials, but as of Tuesday this had not yet happened.

“The commissioner and the county purchased 20,000 kits for our members,” McDermott told News12 Long Island. “The commissioner said they were trying to implement it on Wednesday [April 8] or Thursday [April 9].”

Members received an email last Thursday that the department had not yet received the tests, which were supposed to be distributed by Melville-based Henry Schein, and that the tests still needed FDA approval. The email was recalled moments later, McDermott said.

The Henry Schein website states that the tests do not need FDA approval since the coronavirus presents a public health emergency.

The tests are still awaiting validation by Nassau University Medical Center, which is the cause of the delay, a Nassau County spokesman told News12. Validation could take weeks.

Curran confirmed Monday that no tests have been validated by labs on Long Island.

“We’re all hearing the dialogue on the national level and on the state level about these antibodies tests,” she said. “Everybody’s waiting.”

“The governor keeps talking about the strategy of using this kind of testing for reopening society,” said Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein, “so I think the answer is to make sure that when we do have this kind of antibody testing available that it’s proven that it’s accurate, that it’s proven that it works.”

Fire departments, like police departments, are awaiting the arrival of testing kits.

“We need more,” Curran said Monday in response to a question about rapid response tests for fire departments. “I know these tests are being developed. We can’t give these tests unless they are validated, and that’s exactly what we’re waiting for.”

At a press conference at the Malverne Fire Department in March, Curran described the emergency response vehicles that the county puts into use during infectious disease outbreaks. She pointed to hazmat and special operations trucks, a command bus and a major emergency response vehicle.

The West Hempstead Fire Department has limited the number of volunteers who respond to calls, as well as the number of volunteers in the firehouse at one time.

“We train and try to instill a certain set of guidelines and protocols in our members for years,” West Hempstead Second Assistant Chief Andrew Brohm told the Long Island Herald. “Everything’s difficult, but with this, we ended up learning a lot on the fly. We’re retraining our members in a way that can protect them.”

Brohm said that West Hempstead firefighters and EMTs are equipped with personal protective equipment.

“[Fire department leadership] are really the ones who have been leading the charge in making sure that everyone here is safe and making sure we have the proper materials,” said Brohm.

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