“Up until March 26, employees for the San Diego Lifeguard Service and San Diego Fire Department, were quarantined if they were showing symptoms, or if they had been exposed to someone who had tested positive,” said Ed Harris, a union officer speaking on behalf of Teamsters 911.
“The City of San Diego and Fire Rescue Chief Colin Stowell have made a unilateral decision to end this practice. They will no longer quarantine employees who worked in close contact with a person who tests positive until the person exposed becomes symptomatic,” Harris said. “This means that an infected employee, who we know was exposed to a person who is positive, could be walking around the workplace for days before showing symptoms.”
“One firefighter has tested positive and four lifeguards have tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 27,” said SDFD communications media services manager Monica Munoz. “The quarantine practices of SDFD are in line with the CDC, County of San Diego Health and all other fire agencies in the county of SD. If there are no symptoms, the employee is not under quarantine.”
Looking over CDC guidelines that changed on March 7, Harris contended, “The change that allows exposed employees to go to work only applies if you have exhausted staffing.”
Added Harris: “While the rest of the nation is doing all they can to reduce exposure, the department is reducing logical safety standards. This threatens not only the guards but their families and the public as well.”
Harris argued lifeguards are higher risk than police or fire noting four of 115 lifeguards have tested positive for the virus thus far while pointing out, “only one of 1,600 firefighters have the virus and only 1 of 900 police officers have it.”
It’s Harris’ position that returning to the previous SDFR protocol for dealing with such emergencies is what’s necessary “to break up this cluster we have growing in the lifeguard service.” He added: “Lifeguards work together in the stations, and if one person gets infected, they infect another 20. They (SDFR) should do the right thing by taking the side of caution and maybe having the County bring in the health department to oversee the safety of personnel.
“The lifeguards must remain a healthy force that is ready when the beaches open,” said Harris. “We are currently unable to promote, hire or train the seasonal guards we rely on each summer. Allowing the virus to spread within the service could cripple our ability to function when needed.”
Concluded Harris: “The Lifeguards have asked that we keep exposed employees in quarantine until they have been cleared by the County with a test. This is a quick turnaround of one or two days, and it will help prevent the spread among our ranks. If this is not a reasonable request, was it reasonable to close the beaches?”