19 Investigates: how many first responders in Ohio have contracted COVID-19?

19 Investigates: how many first responders in Ohio have contracted COVID-19?

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - How many first responders in Ohio have contracted COVID-19 since the virus first hit?

19 Investigates found there's no easy way to get an answer, and no public database is leaving many police and fire departments in the dark.

The Ohio Department of Health told 19 News first responders with COVID-19 cases are grouped with healthcare workers, and that information is posted on their coronavirus website here.

We also found the city of Cleveland is not releasing any demographics on city employees who have tested positive.

But 19 Investigates found some national organizations are tracking COVID-19 cases in first responders.

The International Association of Firefighters has a member tracking tool that is helping local fire departments.

The interactive map shows nearly 17,000 of its union members in the U.S. and Canada have been exposed to COVID-19.

Firefighters have been more exposed in hotspots like New York City and Chicago and large cities like Miami, Houston and Los Angeles.

“I think it's very good for us to see the numbers, especially where, you've seen the map, you can see the hotspots around the country,” said Kevin Gostkowski, president of Akron Local 330 union.

His union represents almost all of Akron's 363 firefighters and fire medics.

They are one of many local unions voluntarily submitting their cases to IAFF.

The Akron Fire Department has had several confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the last few weeks. Right now it's under a handful, according to Gostkowski.

He has found IAFF’s tracking tool helpful.

“I think it's a good thing, because now we can get the overall numbers as to how our first responders have been exposed to get the testing that we need,” Gostkowski said.

19 Investigates found about 11 firefighter unions here in northeast Ohio reported their COVID-19 cases on IAFF's tracking map.

One firefighter union in Cleveland listed 13 firefighters were exposed, 25 firefighters had been tested and two tested positive for COVID-19. That information was reported on April 8.

25 firefighters were exposed in Parma Heights, according to data reported to IAFF on April 5. No firefighters tested positive.

15 firefighters were exposed in Elyria and four were tested, according to IAFF’s map. The information is blank next to the question "how many tested positive?” That data was reported by the union to IAFF on April 9.

Gostkowski hopes the data will at least give them a more accurate picture of how much PPE they need.

“In all honesty, I’m a little surprised that only a third of the fire departments have reported the numbers. I would like to see the local union leaders, the presidents of those locals go ahead and enter those numbers so we can kind of get a better picture,” Gostkowski said.

This national map doesn’t represent all of the COVID-19 cases in firefighters in our area, or even across the country. Still, it is the most comprehensive map we could find tracking cases of COVID-19 in firefighters.

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