Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Concerns about possible exposure to COVID-19 led a fire paramedic station to close for much of Thursday, while nine Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service staff were placed in isolation.
The staff were potentially exposed on a call Thursday morning and remained off-duty for about seven hours, the city says. Station No. 21 at 1446 Regent Ave. was also closed to the public during that time.
"The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic station isolated several first responder crews after exposure to a patient who potentially had COVID-19," wrote city spokeswoman Erin Madden, in a prepared statement.
A handwritten sign posted at the station’s main entrance said personnel were "not able to make any contact with persons outside of this building" and a notice posted to the overhead door read "do not enter until further notice."
Madden noted the isolation ended and the station reopened after the risk was reassessed.
"Following consultations with provincial public health and occupational health authorities, it was determined the risk of exposure to WFPS employees was negligible to non-existent," she wrote.
Jason Shaw, manager of Winnipeg’s Emergency Operations Centre, said continuity plans ensured enough emergency crews were always available to handle 911 calls.
"The risk (of COVID-19) remains low and we will continue to deal with situations like that," said Shaw.
Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, said the city must add a written protocol on the quarantine of firefighters to better protect them and the public.
"We have great policies for how to deal with the patient, we have policies in regards to personal protection but we don’t have any policies about what happens after (potential exposure)," said Forrest.
The union leader said that left the affected crew with little information before they were finally sent home.
Forrest suggested it could be safer to send only ambulances to some health calls for now to reduce the number of emergency workers at risk of becoming quarantined.
Madden said the city does have a set risk assessment process after a first responder is potentially exposed to coronavirus, which determines the length of isolation that’s required.
Meanwhile, the city is now cancelling all business trips for staff with destinations outside of North America, to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
"For those who have travel booked before (Thursday) to the United States, we will review those work-related trips on a case-by-case basis. No new business travel outside of Canada will be approved until further notice. Business travel within Canada is still allowed at this time," wrote city spokesman David Driedger, in an emailed statement.
Shaw said the city is also assessing if it should enhance cleaning procedures at city buildings and buses, as well as possible cancellations to public gatherings.
"Every hour this is changing... So we have a team actively monitoring everything," he said.
For now, the city will post notices at City Hall and other city buildings on how Winnipeggers can best protect themselves.
Mayor Brian Bowman urged Winnipeggers to remain calm.
"I understand and appreciate that … news of the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in the City of Winnipeg may be unsettling (but) citizens should rest assured that all necessary steps are being taken to protect the health and the safety of our citizens," said Bowman.
Bowman and Shaw stressed the risk of COVID-19 throughout Manitoba remains low.
Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) criticized the city for taking a few hours to confirm details of which WFPS station was closed, arguing that led to increased public fear.
"This is a virus that is now considered by the World Health Organization as a pandemic. We should not be hiding any information about this at all … We should have regular updates going out," said Klein.
— With files from Danielle Da Silva
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.