Eight firefighters in Long Beach have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials announced Wednesday, March 25.

In all, Long Beach announced 13 new positive diagnoses Wednesday, upping the citywide total to 41 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. Four of the firefighters are Long Beach residents and were included in Wednesday’s updated total, while the others live elsewhere.

Mayor Robert Garcia said during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon that more firefighters were being tested, and the number of those with confirmed cases of COVID-19 could grow.

The firefighters who have tested positive so far were in stable condition and self-isolating at home, the city said.

Rex Pritchard, president of the fire union, said in a phone interview those firefighters were not available for comment. But, he said, his team is supporting them every way they can.

“We’ve been in contact with those members,” he said. “We’re there for them, helping them meet any needs they have.”

Where the firefighters were exposed to the virus is still under investigation, but Fire Station 11, 160 E. Market St., has been identified as one common location where those who tested positive had recently worked.

Fire Station 11 and all of the equipment there is being sanitized, officials said, and operations will resume once that has been completed.

Fire Chief Xavier Espino said Wednesday afternoon that his department expected to have Fire Station 11 back in operation by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Pritchard, for his part, said firefighters were handling the lost coverage just as they do when members are sent out to deal with wildfires or other crises beyond city limits: taking on extra shifts.

“Our members are stepping up to the plate and working extra shifts,” he said, “to make sure that the city is covered and all 911 calls are being responded to.”

Pritchard said his department was prepared for this type of scenario in part because the city was proactive in planning for the pandemic before it hit locally.

Now, Pritchard said, city officials “are doing everything they can to make sure we have the appropriate (personal protective equipment) and doing everything they can to ensure” firefighters who need testing get it.

“So the city of Long Beach and the Fire Department,” he added, “are doing a tremendous job in making sure our firefighters are protected.”

As for the broader group of people who have tested positive, Garcia acknowledged that the number of confirmed cases is increasing each day.

“If we do not flatten the curve immediately, this number will continue to increase and exponentially grow over time,” he said. “You can also expect (today’s) number — 41 — will continue to increase exponentially, possibly.”

Officials in the city’s Health Department said they are working to protect all residents and identify where people may have been exposed.

“The treatment of these firefighters, along with all of our current positive cases, remains our highest priority,” City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement. “We are aware of the impact of these results on our community and understand the significant concerns this news brings. We are working diligently to identify potential situations where additional exposure may have occurred.”

Also this week, the city reported that a woman in her 50s with underlying health conditions became the first Long Beach resident to die as a result of the coronavirus.

Garcia has emphasized throughout the public health crisis that because of limited testing, the number of actual cases in Long Beach is likely much higher than the confirmed total.

There have now been 799 confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 deaths countywide as of Wednesday; the death total, though, no longer includes a 17-year-old Lancaster boy, county public health officials said Wednesday, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was still investigating it.

Those officials also announced 138 new cases Wednesday, though that doesn’t include the new Long Beach cases. The county has generally lagged a day behind Long Beach in reporting the city’s cases.

COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms associated with the respiratory disease, which appear two-to-14 days after exposure, include fever, a cough and shortness of breath. While the virus poses a potential danger no matter a person’s age, most people — particularly healthy young adults — will experience mild symptoms; still, the disease can have severe symptoms and, as the rising death toll indicates, prove fatal, especially among the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

“As we wage this war on COVID-19 in our community, we do it with the understanding that there is significant risk to our personnel as we respond to the needs of those we serve,” Espino said in a statement. “The health of our public safety personnel is being monitored daily and we will continue to provide the necessary support to our employees and their families as we move forward.”

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