7 Orlando firefighters test positive for COVID-19, 64 in quarantine, fire chief says

Orlando Mayor says he's relying on health experts for further reopening guidance

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando Fire Chief Benjamin Barksdale Jr. said at a coronavirus testing site Wednesday that seven firefighters across several stations throughout the city had tested positive for COVID-19 and 64 firefighters, including those who tested positive, were in quarantine or self-isolation due to contact concerns.

The chief said four of those seven firefighters are new hires going through the training academy, while the other three positive cases were from operational firefighters.

Barksdale said he did not believe any of the firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19 had any impact on the public, saying, “They had come into work early before they went out on any calls.”

The chief also said 64 firefighters were in quarantine or in self-isolation due to possible exposure to the infected firefighters. Of those 64 firefighters, 32 were new hires who were only two weeks into their new job and six were instructors responsible for training those new employees.

The chief said the department has around 550 firefighters on staff.

This comes as Orange County officials acknowledged a recent spike in COVID-19 case in the area Tuesday, reporting that the county saw 730 new COVID-19 cases last week alone, up 202% from the week before.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was also present at the coronavirus testing site and said he is closely monitoring the rising cases of COVID-19 in the city and county, but had no immediate plans to shut the city down to prevent the spread of the respiratory illness.

When asked if he would consider scaling back reopening efforts in the city, Dyer said he will “rely on the health care experts to advise us on any of that. I can tell you the percentage of positive cases has gone up over the last 7-10 days. So we’re kind of in the wait and see mode.”

Dyer said he was also aware that the spike in cases came after Memorial Day weekend, which saw large gatherings of people, not all of whom followed social distancing guidelines.

“Certainly people were out Memorial Day weekend. After being cooped up, people want to do stuff. We encourage people to do it safely,” Dyer said. “It’s so easy to wear a mask. I don’t just base it on the fact that we’re doing more testing. The percentage of positive tests have gone up. That’s an indication there are more people with the virus since we’ve done the reopening.”

As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health reported a total of 3,584 cases, 48 deaths and 417 hospitalizations in Orange County since COVID-19 was first detected in the state on March 1.

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