Norwich first responders call for convenient access to COVID-19 testing

New London

NORWICH, Conn, (WTNH) — American Ambulance in Norwich answers calls 24/7 and as many as 30,000 calls a year.

Paramedics and EMTs who ride in the ambulances have direct contact with the public and may need COVID-19 tests more than most, but they have to stand in line just like everyone else to get a PCR test.

“Our staff sees patients that could be positive or are positive every single day,” said Rob Rautio, the director of operations for American Ambulance.

Some now are calling for easier access to tests for first responders.

“It makes it complicated when I have staff members that potentially need to be tested and might be sick and are sitting in line for four, five, six hours,” Rautio said.

Right now, two employees at American Ambulance are out because of COVID-19. That may not seem like a lot because there are 140 employees, but what it means is that one of these ambulances can’t go out on calls until that team returns to work.

New London police now have eight officers in quarantine.

“Both of our public service agencies really feel that it’s necessary to be testing our personnel routinely,” New London Mayor Michael Passero said. “At least once a week, if not more, and the opportunity just isn’t there right now.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, New London firefighters were able to get tested at the Community Health Center after every shift but that site is no longer open.

The city is hoping to work with area hospitals and health districts to try to get another community site opened again.

“Absolutely we’ll need our partners to get this done,” Passero said.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital said in a statement: “We are actively looking for a solution to all testing. Increased public demand, coupled with staffing shortages, makes this very challenging” — Fiona Phelan, hospital spokesperson.

Testing is available at Dodd Stadium in Norwich four days a week.

“It was quite a long line waiting,” Passero said.

He along with leaders from other cities and towns also plan to save some of the home testing kits they will get from the state for their first responders.

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