'Help us help you': First responders call for Minnesotans to help limit COVID-19 spread

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on first responders, who remain on the frontlines as community spread increases statewide and hospital ICU nears capacity in the Twin Cities metro area.

"If you’re thinking about wearing that mask or thinking about going to that little gathering, stop and think about that firefighter, police officer, paramedic and give them a little bit of a break today," said Walz. "Make their job just a little bit easier."

Alongside Walz during a press conference Wednesday, representatives from police, fire, and paramedic agencies called for the public to help limit the spread of COVID-19

"Please, help us help you by following the advice of our public health experts," said Ross Chavez, a paramedic in the Twin Cities metro. "Following these guidelines, doing such will help us stay healthy so that we can respond to emergencies of our communities in a timely fashion."

In November, the Plato Fire Department halted service after three-quarters of its force had tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed. One firefighter was briefly hospitalized. Until the department was able to return to service the department relied on mutual aid.

"We are not alone as a small department as dealing with the virus and the staff issues it has presented us," said Jay Wood, Plato Fire Department assistant chief of operations. "Fire departments throughout Minnesota are facing this whether they are large career departments or small volunteer departments."

The state has been tracking the COVID-19 status of the state's fire departments through its mutual aid map, which shows many departments are partially impacted by the virus.

Eagan Police Chief Roger New said his department was also hit hard last month with about 20 percent of its staff members impacted by the virus. New said one employee was hospitalized for nearly two months, but has since recovered. 

New said the pandemic has caused his department to limit or even cancel training and suspend some community outreach programs, like National Night Out. Another impact, New described, was the stress and impact on officers' families.

"Every day a police officer goes to work - just as a medical provider, the paramedics, and the firefighters - we all risk bringing that virus home to our families and it creates stressors at home," said New.

Vaccine distribution for first responders

Under the latest recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, health care workers and residents of long term care facilities would receive the COVID-19 vaccine first as part of group 1A. First responders would be included in group 1B. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Minnesota would be required to follow that rollout.

Malcolm says she anticipates the FDA to issue the emergency use authorization for the vaccine on Dec. 11. She explained after that approval shipments would follow, state officials would coordinate training procedures for distribution and vaccinations would start around Christmas.