Stow officials report low COVID-19 numbers among first responders

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal
Lt. Matt Schneider, left, Dave McLain, center, and Dan Stehler stand in full personal protection gear that is worn while out on calls, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Stow, Ohio. Since the beginning of the pandemic, only 10 personnel have tested positive for the virus. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]
Lt. Matt Schneider gets suited up in PPE at the Stow Fire Station, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Stow, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

The city of Stow has only had 13 positive COVID-19 cases among its first responders thanks in large part to enhanced safety protocols, city officials say. 

EMS

The Stow Fire Department identified its first case of COVID-19 among EMS workers in the fall and has since seen a total of 10 positive cases, Chief Mark Stone reported.

"One thing we've been happy about is that we can confidently say that all of the cases we've had in the department were contracted outside of work," Stone said. "We have a lot of strict protocols here, and knock on wood, we haven't had any spread."

That is an impressive feat, Stone said, given the city's zip code, 44224, has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the county, according to Summit County Public Health. 

"Stow's been pretty busy. We have seven nursing homes, and that's where we see a lot of the patients. Even during the downturn in cases over the summer, we never let up on our policies," Stone said.

Those policies include wearing gowns over uniforms and washing uniforms immediately when returning from a suspected case. Due to increased uniform washing and frequent turnover, employees are now required to have three sets of uniforms at work and the department has had to purchase more washers and dryers. 

Of the firefighters eligible to receive the vaccine through the Stow department, about 80% received the first dose. In Stow, all firefighters, including Stone, are also EMS. 

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"The people who were concerned [about the vaccine] were referred to a knowledgeable paramedic who teaches paramedicine. Once they saw the facts, they realized it's much safer than what some media likes to portray, so a few people who were on the fence decided to get it," Stone said. "Once the originals starting getting it, I think that relieved a lot of concerns." 

Police

Out of 42 sworn officers, only three have tested positive for COVID-19, which is lower than expected, Capt. Bryan Snavely said.

"We attribute that to the diligence of the staff and the precautions we put in place," he said. 

As of Jan. 14, one was still out of work while the other two had returned. The department could not determine whether they contracted COVID-19 at work or at home. No other officers had to quarantine as a result of the positive cases.

Officers have been quarantined for other potential exposures, but quarantines have been more common among the department's civilian personnel, Snavely said. 

The department, which has around 80 employees, has been strictly following Centers for Disease Control and Ohio Department of Health guidelines, such as social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing, and temperature monitoring.

"We've seen much more cases and we have to be more diligent with the procedures we put in place. The staff's done a great job of that and that has helped us stay safe and be able to continue to provide safety and security to the community we're sworn to protect," Snavely said. 

The new procedures have not drastically changed the way the department interacts with the public, as officers have continued to be in close proximity to the public, including during arrests and during situations that call for CPR. 

"CPR is largely a medical function, but we're first responders and we're trained in first aid, so if we're in that position, that's what we do," he said. "Officers are often the first on scene, and we take action that may put our staff in danger as it pertains to COVID, but that risk is mitigated by the use of PPE."

Police have not yet been scheduled to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Snavely said he has not polled the department to determine interest. 

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"I'm sure like any other employee there are some who want it and some that may decide to not take it," he said.

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.