San Francisco Sheriff’s deputies patrol outside City Hall on Wednesday. The Sheriff’s Department has been among the hardest hit by coronavirus so far among emergency responders, with four confirmed cases and another 38 staff members in self-quarantine. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF speeds up testing for first responders as Sheriff’s Department is hit by coronavirus

Miyamoto rolls out daily temperature checks at jails, hospitals and courthouses

San Francisco is stepping up measures to prevent first responders from inadvertently spreading the coronavirus after a sheriff’s cadet who screened bags at City Hall tested positive for the virus and a deputy with the illness visited the Emergency Operations Center.

Mayor London Breed announced Friday that San Francisco would expedite testing for first responders and health care workers, while Sheriff Paul Miyamoto also ordered daily temperature checks for all of his staffers, including those at jails, hospitals and courthouses.

“The prioritization of COVID-19 testing for frontline workers, along with people who are most vulnerable, will help us make sure our health care system can continue serving the public and taking care of people who need help,” Breed said in a statement.

Law enforcement unions had argued that San Francisco needed to prioritize testing for first responders because they ensure public safety and cannot work from home. Despite the national shortage of testing kits, other jurisdictions had already sped up tests for emergency workers.

Of all the emergency agencies in The City, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus. The department has four confirmed cases so far, and another 38 staff members have been self-quarantined for various reasons including showing symptoms.

A deputy who worked at the Hall of Justice jail first tested positive for the virus on Sunday. Sources told the San Francisco Examiner that the deputy is the brother of the cadet who screened bags at City Hall and later tested positive for the virus.

The cadet was assigned to the same unit at City Hall as a senior deputy who was also confirmed to have the illness earlier this week. The building was closed to all but essential workers on Tuesday to mitigate the potential spread of the virus.

The senior deputy is believed to have visited the Emergency Operations Center on Monday morning before testing positive, sources said. The center is the crisis hub for San Francisco, where city officials from various agencies gather to coordinate during an emergency.

The senior deputy also responded to an emergency call reporting a person with a gun at Laguna Honda Hospital on Sunday, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The hospital has been working to mitigate an outbreak among patients and staff.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has worked out of the Emergency Operations Center on a daily basis, said officials there have taken social distancing protocols very seriously.

“We have safety officers who enforce social distancing here at our morning briefings, at the mess hall,” Peskin said. “People line up down a corridor that is two football fields long.”

“Having said that, it’s not as good as being home self-isolating,” Peskin added.

A deputy at a Department of Public Health Clinic also tested positive this week.

But a fifth staffer who was initially confirmed to have the virus turned out to have received a false positive, the department said. The staffer is also a deputy at the Hall of Justice jail. 

Beginning Friday, Miyamoto is requiring staffers at all facilities to have their temperature checked. Staffers are sent home if their temperature is above 100.4 degrees, and anyone with symptoms is also being told to self-quarantine, according to the department.

Prior to the announcement, Miyamoto had pushed for priority testing.

“We are on the front lines of preventing exposure to the virus and controlling the spread,” Miyamoto said. “The best way to keep the public and first responders safe is to know for certain that we do not have the virus and can support and protect the people who do.”

Ken Lomba, head of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, had been directing his members to get expedited testing outside of San Francisco at a fire station in Hayward.

“San Francisco is leading by example during the pandemic for the public yet needs to lead by example by helping its deputy sheriffs,” Lomba said. “Our Deputy Sheriff members are on the front line protecting the nurses and doctors while fighting an invisible threat.”

The San Francisco Police Department has also had two confirmed cases of the virus within the Special Victims Unit, and 25 officers in the unit are also under quarantine. 

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tony Montoya had told Mayor Breed in a letter that the lack of priority testing created a public safety risk.

“In New York City, over 200 NYPD officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 3,000 are out sick,” Montoya said. “The San Francisco Police Department cannot sustain that level of impact and still protect the safety of San Franciscans.”

First responders, as well as health care workers, will be able to receive expedited testing by contacting their primary care physician as of Friday.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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