Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County, Florida & COVID-19: Do the County Fathers Have the Firefighters' Backs?

Observer Graphic | Covidman: Pete Linforth/Pixabay, flames by EliasSch/Pixabay


17,961: the number of positive Covid-19 cases in Florida as of Friday, April 10.  438: the number of deaths in Florida as of April 10.  Columbia County has 24 positive cases with 4 hospitalizations. Those numbers give us reason to pause.

Pause to wonder, have we done enough to flatten the curve and stop this pandemic before it takes any more lives? Pause to wonder, what more can we do to help this get better? Pause to wonder, is my employer doing all it can for me during this trying time?

One employer has shown that it is not willing to do everything possible to protect its employees or the public.  It has shown that money is more important than protection.  Sadly, it is the employer of frontline workers, the first responders protecting the public in the fight against Covid-19. 

Columbia County/Columbia County Fire Rescue is that employer.

With news coming out of Korea in recent days of recovered coronavirus patients testing positive again, and concern that we as a nation have not done enough to flatten the curve, it would seem that common sense would dictate that our front line workers can and will be exposed numerous times before this pandemic is over. 

The Columbia County Fire Rescue, by extension Columbia County, have decided that first responders, firemen, EMTs and paramedics only get one bite at the apple of paid quarantining. The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act calls for 14 days of paid time off for testing and quarantining of employees. This covers government employers, of which Columbia County is one.

In an article in the Columbia County Observer, Columbia County Firefighter Tests Positive for Coronavirus: Deep Issues Raised, Columbia County Risk Manager David Krause stated that the government will only pay for one 14 day quarantine period, as prescribed by law. If a Columbia County Fire Fighter has more than one exposure he will need to use up his sick time and file a claim under workers compensation for the exposure.

The problems with this solution are numerous and dangerous.

The assumption must be that multiple exposures are not only probable, but likely.

Employees are more likely to remain quiet about possible exposures knowing that after the first one, they are on their own moneywise. Many employees do not have unlimited sick hours to burn, nor are they willing to ‘spin the wheel’ of workers comp claims.

Risk Manager Krause was quite clear in that the employee would need to not only prove exposure at work, but the exposure must be from someone who has tested positive.

As the majority of Americans do not have access to testing, this is an undue burden to put on the employee. With a 14-day incubation period, where the carrier is contagious, proving when and where an exposure happened is generally all but impossible.

Because the U.S. government was short sighted in this area does not mean that Columbia County must also be short sighted. The law requires that Columbia County must, at a minimum, do what it has said.

Columbia County is, of course, allowed to go above and beyond what the government has dictated. That they are not doing so is shameful. That they are willing to add this worry onto first responders already stressful jobs shows a lack of good faith toward their employees and the public they are entrusted to protect.

Columbia County Fire Rescue employees are routinely involved with the sickest and most vulnerable of residents. Ask yourself this: if my mother, father, grandparent needs fire rescue, am I confident that the firemen are Covid-19 free and doing all they can to keep my loved one the same?

What is the position of the County Fathers?

Kathy D'Antonio is originally from Philly. She is a retired Palm Beach County deputy. She has a bachelors degree in criminal justice from St. Leo University.

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