Getting emergency repairs done with COVID-19

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
The Cooleys were diagnosed in December (they are clear now), then days later their furnace gave out. Wendy Cooley at home in Randolph.

You feel symptoms that match COVID-19 and get a test. The test results come back. Positive.

Then, a pipe bursts. Or there’s an electrical issue. Or a branch damages your roof. Or your furnace goes out.

Now what?

This is the scenario that faced Wendy Cooley and her husband Ralph of Randolph earlier this month.

“Around the same time we had COVID, the heat went out,” Cooley said.

She said she called the company that installed the furnace for the repair work, “and I told them the truth, that we had been tested.”

“They told us they couldn’t come,” Cooley said. “I understand they don’t want it; it’s a touchy situation. I don’t want anyone to get COVID.”

Because their furnace was under warranty, the Cooleys didn’t want to call an outside contractor. They were able to make do with space heaters and electric blankets supplied by friends, along with sweaters and their fireplace until the furnace was repaired.

“I hope no one else has to go through that,” said Cooley, a retired special education teacher from the Southeast Local school district.

One thing that did help was remaining in touch with the Portage County Health Department, Cooley said.

“They called every day to check up on us,” Cooley said. “Portage was very, very good.”

Officials there even offered them temporary lodging, but they declined, fearing the security of their home.

“I would suggest calling the health department for help,” Cooley said.

Cooley said that she and her husband were “feeling good, we can’t complain.”

Wendy Cooley at home in Randolph.

Chris Martin, assistant fire chief in Cuyahoga Falls, said city workers approach their work as though everyone they come into contact with is infected.

Cuyahoga Falls supplies electric to the city’s residents and Silver Lake Village.

He said the city hasn’t changed operations, "just our approach.”

“When you think of all the investigations we go on, a car accident, a smoke alarm going on, we come in contact with so many people not facing a medical need,” Martin said. “We changed our operations to assume that everyone is positive. If we are outside, for a gas leak or car accident, we may not gear up if we can maintain social distancing. But if we are going inside, we will gear up. Also, dispatchers are instructed to ask questions about symptoms, and if they’ve traveled outside the country.”

The private companies that the city contracts with will go out, Martin said. Those looking for services in an emergency when they have COVID can find companies that would be willing to come out but they “may have to dig” and call around.

Chris Walerski, the owner of C&D Plumbing in Sagamore Hills, said that to date he has not had an experience where someone has called with an emergency but told him that they tested positive for COVID-19.

“I always wear a mask anyway,” Walerski said. “I always distance myself from the customer while I am working. Usually, if the work is in the basement, they stay upstairs in the living room, which works out. Or if in the kitchen, they stay in another room. That’s all I’ve done so far.”

Debbie Carroll, the office manager of Emery Electric in Twinsburg, said that so far the company has not had that situation.

“We have not been asked that question,” Carroll said. “We are a family-oriented company. We have set up policies for who can come into our building.” She added that anyone wishing to come to the office needs to call in advance, and everyone comes in with masks.

Currently, the company, which does work primarily at commercial sites and new homes, keeps sanitizers on the trucks.

“From our history, we try to help out anyone we can, but we can’t force an employee to go into a situation they are not comfortable with. We would need to have discussions with the employees.”

Carroll said the pandemic has limited how many people can be on a work site, and that they take temperatures and require masks.

Neil J. Durbin, senior communications specialist with Dominion Energy Ohio, said that for services requiring an in-person visit, Dominion employees wear “protective face coverings and other personal protective equipment as needed.”

“They also are practicing appropriate social distancing procedures,” Durbin said. “As an added safety precaution, call center agents are asking customers a series of health-related questions, concerning potential COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis among members of the household or business. As an extra precaution, our field technician will ask that same series of questions upon arrival at the customer premises.”

If the customer responds in a way that would indicate possible exposure to COVID-19, Dominion assigns the call “to a member of a specially trained and equipped member of the company’s Emergency Customer Response Team.”

“To protect customers and themselves and coworkers, these Dominion Energy employees will be wearing additional PPE, including disposable coveralls, gloves and boot covers, along with respirators and safety glasses, to serve customers safely in such environments,” Durbin said. “We request that the individuals in the home with known or suspected COVID-19 infection wear a face mask, if available, prior to the arrival of our employee. They should also move to a single room with the door closed, as far away as possible from the entrance and/or room where the worker will be located.” 

In addition, other individuals at the premises also should move to another room before the worker arrives, Durbin said.

Durbin said that Dominion recommended customers clean and sanitize all surfaces where the Dominion employee worked “in an abundance of caution.”

Lauren Siburkis, a spokesperson with FirstEnergy, said utility workers seldom need to come into close contact with residents.

“Our field personnel perform almost all of their work outside of homes and businesses with little to no need to interact with occupants," she said.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at