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Jacksonville fire and rescue worker contracts coronavirus, fire station shut down

The department had to take 63 employees out of service to quarantine.

Duval County saw few increases in coronavirus cases Thursday morning. But one case has caused a crisis among some first responders and led to the closure of the largest fire station in Jacksonville.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Jacksonville inched up by 12 Thursday to a total of 589 and an additional death was reported, bringing the total to 11, according to Florida Department of Health data. A Jacksonville Fire and Rescue worker is among those infected. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Powers confirmed Thursday a male employee tested positive for the illness April 4.

“This is going to affect about 47 Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department members” who work at the same station and likely will be quarantined, Powers said. He did not specify whether the employee is a firefighter or emergency medical technician.

The infected employee worked at the south Jacksonville Station 8 on Hogan Road in a heavily suburban area near multiple business and retail centers. It’s the largest fire station in Jacksonville, Powers said.

“We’ve already put the station down and we’re doing a thorough cleaning in that fire station. That station will be filled up with additional personnel and it will be put back on line,” Powers said.

With that station’s staff out of commission, Powers said the coronavirus infections and associated quarantines are taking a toll on the department. The virus took 63 employees temporarily out of service.

“We’ll be working with those first responders who need to be tested, we’ll get every one of those tested as rapidly as we can so we can get them back in the system as soon as they test negative,” Powers said. “That’s taxing on the system. We’re going to have to find creative ways to continue our staffing right now.”

Meanwhile, the federal government is halting funds for coronavirus testing centers. The Jacksonville free federal testing center at TIAA Bank Field in the east end of downtown has already serviced thousands and demand for testing is so high the city has had to turn people away.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he’s already reached a mutual agreement with Gov. Ron DeSantis to keep the testing center operational. Remaining supplies from the federal government will be used for ongoing testing.

“Things just have an expiration date,” Curry said of the federal withdrawal from the testing site. “That’s the way it was set up.”

“I’m grateful the way the feds came in and set that up,” Curry  said. “But I want to thank Gov. DeSantis. He is all over the state managing this everywhere. He cares about Jacksonville and called me [Wednesday] night to talk about that and has agreed to allow that site to continue on business as usual.”

Written By

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at drewdixonwriting@gmail.com.

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