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Aurora city leaders concerned about a lack of COVID-19 testing, PPE for first responders

Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 23:57:45-04

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AURORA, Colo. -- An absence of COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment (PPE) has created an abundance of problems for Aurora first responders.

"Certainly, a shortage at one point or at least not enough of certain types of PPE," said Aurora city councilman Curtis Gardner.

Aurora's Deputy City Manager, Jason Batchelor, said Aurora Police and Aurora Fire are both taking measures to minimize exposure to COVID-19, but also acknowledged the need for more protective gear.

"Our police department could use more equipment, and unfortunately is not the only agency experiencing a shortage, said Batchelor. "The city’s Office of Emergency Management is constantly working on trying to procure more equipment."

The city said Aurora Fire Rescue currently has adequate PPE supply, and all police officers are using gloves and masks.

The lack of testing has also left police officers and firefighters with no way of knowing if they're carrying the novel coronavirus, which has led to one of two things: The first is the potential of spreading the virus and the second is crucial employees being sidelined when they could be serving the public.

"They were having issues getting tests in a timely manner or maybe not meeting the minimum threshold for what qualified for a test," said Gardner. "Of course, there are limited tests available and so it obviously does need to be prioritized."

Gardner recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Aurora Sentinel where he advocated for first responders and what he viewed as a lack of testing.

"In my role, I feel like I need to advocate for those folks and so I continue to ask questions," said Gardner. "If our first responders are spending time making their own cleaning solutions and things like that, that's less time that they can be out doing the job," he said.

Gardner said as of Monday, four Aurora police officers and four Aurora firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19.

However, the impact to the overall workforce has been much greater.

He said 120 police officers were off the job on 14-day self-quarantines, but only 38 of those officers were tested for the virus. Meanwhile, 49 firefighters have been in self-quarantine while 34 were tested for COVID-19.

"And so that's a concern," said Gardner. "They're limited."

"An inability to get tested, whether at all or in a timely manner, makes it difficult to determine precisely how many of our first responders are potentially carrying COVID-19. It also leads to uncertainty," said Aurora city councilwoman Allison Hiltz in a statement.

The city said Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson was recently able to purchase 2,000 rapid antibody tests for officers at a cost of $50,000.

"What those will do is allow us to at least find out if a police officer or firefighter has the antibodies present that are typically seen in a coronavirus," explained Gardner. "It won't actually indicate a positive or negative test for COVID-19, specifically."

Gardner said he wants to see more done to expand testing for Aurora First Responders who are on the front lines.

"Make sure those folks get that test so we can find out if they have COVID-19," he said. "And if they don't, they can get back to the job that they love."

The city of Aurora said it is following CDC guidelines when it comes to testing for its personnel.

"Given the directives from CDC -- for example, no required testing of asymptomatic personnel -- and the limited resources available nationally, especially toward the beginning of the crisis, the city of Aurora believes the testing conducted has been acceptable, although never enough," said city manager Batchelor in an email to Denver7.