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COVID-19 cases among Surrey firefighters, police heighten concerns over vaccine timeline

Last Updated Apr 8, 2021 at 9:37 pm PDT

FILE -- Fraser Health COVID-19 testing site in Surrey, B.C. at TransLink’s South Surrey Park and Ride at the junction of Highway 99. It will offer increased access to testing, and will process between 500 and 700 tests per day when operating at full capacity. (Image Credit: CityNews)

Chief Larry Thomas says he worries that community spread will soon impact staffing levels among Surrey firefighters

The fire chief in Surrey says a timeline for immunization would help ease some concern for first responders

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Eight firefighters and police officers in Surrey have tested positive for COVID-19 within the span of a week, sending 18 more first responders into self-isolation, and the fire chief wants to know when crews will be vaccinated.

As B.C. continues to break daily records for new infections with the highest number concentrated in the Fraser Health Region, Chief Larry Thomas says he worries that community spread will soon impact staffing levels, undermining the Surrey Fire Service’s capacity to respond to calls.

“That’s what gets me worried at night when I go to bed, wondering if we’re going to be able to deliver our service with all the outbreaks going on,” Thomas says.

RELATED: COVID-infected workplaces to be shut down, as B.C. sees record-breaking cases

Between March 2020 — when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic — and March 2021 the Surrey Fire Service has recorded 10 cases among staff.

“Our staff have done a really great job of staying safe over the last year, they use their PPE appropriately, follow the provincial health orders, and all the COVID safety policies we’ve put in place, and as a result we’ve had relatively low COVID work-related transmission over the course of the year,” Thomas says.

In the last week, however, three members have tested positive along with five police officers. Thomas says cases among first responders reflect what’s going on in the community, and the lack of a vaccination timeline is causing undue stress.

“That’s a very concerning pattern and trend. If you watch the case counts and the variant case counts on a daily basis, you see that they’re going up almost exponentially in some areas. It makes me a little nervous with the variants of concern transmitting at higher rates, and we hear that Surrey is the epicentre of transmission for COVID in the province,” he says.

“With our staff, where they’re acquiring it through transmission in the community, this could either be through their household or through a family member getting COVID, and then they become positive or need to isolate as a result. This uptick is a little concerning as it impacts our ability to maintain our staffing.”

Thomas says he’s not asking for members to be moved ahead of anyone else in line for the vaccine, but a clear timeline would help allay some of his anxiety.

“About a month ago they announced that it would be announced shortly and then now it’s been delayed. It’s this period of not knowing what the plan is, with the increased COVID cases happening and impacting our staff that’s making people frustrated,” he says.

“We can’t get vaccinated soon enough to alleviate this concern, and it’d be nice to know what the plan is.”

RELATED: B.C. pauses frontline worker COVID-19 vaccination program pending review of AstraZeneca

A program prioritizing first responders — as well as teachers, child care staff, grocery store workers, and others — is on pause, as the AstraZeneca vaccine is currently not recommended for people under 55 years of age. Those doses have since been diverted to pharmacies to be administered to people aged 55 to 65.

There’s no word on when that program will resume.