Gov. Walz, DFD Chief Krizaj Address First Responders Impact as Cases Continue to Climb

DULUTH, Minn.– In Minnesota, the state is continuing to see a surge in COVID-19 cases. With another 5,200 added Wednesday, with the case positivity rate staying above 12 percent.

The increase in cases and hospital capacity is putting a strain on healthcare workers, and it’s also putting a strain on other groups who are trying to keep everyone safe.

Wednesday was the state’s second deadliest day of COVID-19 with 77 more deaths. As cases remain high and hospital capacity is shrinking, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz highlighted the impact it’s having on first responders as they continue to try and do their jobs during the pandemic.

“It’s been a multi-faceted, totally flexible machine that we’ve been doing,” said Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj.

At a time when hospitals are filling up in the state and first responders still need to be out in the public every day, the governor urged Minnesotans to continue following social distancing and state health department guidelines. Not only to keep everyone healthy but to keep responders up and running as they’re one of the top groups in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The surest and easiest way that situation doesn’t arise is each Minnesotan doing the things to stop the spread of COVID,” said Governor Walz to stop it from the community spread, not only in our emergency rooms, but it ends up in our fire halls, and our police stations, and our ambulances.”

In Duluth, there are just under 10 cases recorded so far within the DFD. None were traced back to the department, and only three firefighters had to be out at the same time, so there were no staffing shortages.

Krizaj’s department has been preparing for COVID-19 since February and well before that for a public health crisis.

“This isn’t the first pandemic scare that we’ve had in the last eight to ten years. Bird flu, SARS, and some other things that didn’t turn out being of course as bad as this but it helped us prepare,” said Krizaj.

The preparation allowed the DFD to stay stocked up on PPE during the early parts of the pandemic when resources were scarce. Along with keeping firefighters in localized areas to prevent exposure. And responders only wear N95 or KN95 masks, which are more effective than cloth masks.

“If we do have an exposure we’re trying to limit it to possibly just one station,” Krizaj said.

Krizaj says the health of firefighters and first responders is vitally important. And he says with smaller departments in the state having outbreaks that put the whole unit out of commission, it’s also important to make sure they’re ready and able to respond to emergencies when they arise.

“Us staying safe and us keeping our exposure potential down means that we’re there for the rest of the community as well,” said Krizaj.

The DFD is asking the public to be open and honest with them about information regarding COVID-19 when calling the fire department. Some calls they respond to involve COVID positive individuals so first responders can take the right precautions when in the field to limit exposure to COVID-19.

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