Update 12:09 p.m., March 30: 911 dispatchers will be eligible for priority testing for COVID-19 as first responders, the Department of Emergency Management said Sunday.
Original story: Emergency officials were not surprised to learn Thursday that one of San Francisco’s 911 dispatchers had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The dispatcher had not come to work since last Friday after experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19, said Rob Smuts, a director with the Department of Emergency Management.
“It is not a surprise that a dispatcher has tested positive, and it will almost certainly happen again,” Smuts said in an internal email obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.
Smuts urged employees to “redouble” efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus by cleaning and social distancing.
The test results have escalated health concerns for dispatchers who work at the 911 Call Center on Turk Street.
While Mayor London Breed announced Friday that first responders who show symptoms of the virus would be eligible for priority testing, it’s unclear if that includes dispatchers.
But Burt Wilson, president of the dispatchers union, said they should be considered first responders because they direct fire and police services to help people in need.
“Working in close quarters at our center,” Wilson said, “It only makes sense to keep our dispatchers healthy and give them the priority test that is being given to first responders for COVID-19 so that we are able to work to keep our city safe.”
Wilson has called not only for his peers who show symptoms to be tested, but all dispatchers.
There is currently a national shortage of testing kits, and the CDC has recommended that people who do not show symptoms related to the virus are not tested.
The Mayor’s Office and DEM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, DEM implemented temperature checks for anyone entering the operations floor of the dispatch center, Smuts said. DEM is also notifying people who may have been exposed to the dispatcher within 48 hours of him showing symptoms.
“Because the dispatcher’s last presence at work was six days ago, there is no risk of continued presence of the virus on surfaces from this case,” Smuts said. “But this should be a reminder of the importance of our cleaning.”
Mary Ellen Carroll, the executive director of DEM, reacted to the news in another email obtained by the Examiner.
“In spite of all of our efforts, even with temp screening, it is still likely we will have additional cases,” Carroll said. “We will continue to work to protect everyone at DEM, supporting each other and still provide the essential service for the safety of the public.”