Solon firefighters are taking part in a volunteer First Responders Antibody Test study for the coronavirus, with about 5-to-10 percent of the department testing positive for the antibody, city officials said.
Fire Chief Mark Vedder said last week that of the firefighters who chose to share the results, none had symptoms associated with the virus.
“This proves you can be asymptomatic and also a carrier,” he said.
The study, jointly sponsored by University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University, is intended to determine how many first responders, including firefighters, police, nurses and paramedics, have been exposed to COVID-19.
“The test does not tell you if you currently have it but if you have been exposed to it and your body has developed antibodies to protect it from the virus,” Chief Vedder explained.
The state of Ohio closed schools and businesses in March to stop the spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus causing a global pandemic. The state began reopening last month.
First responders continued to work in the past months due to the nature of their jobs.
The majority of Solon’s 61 firefighters are taking part in the study, he said, and the data will be used to verify what Cuyahoga County health officials are estimating – that about 10 percent of the population has been exposed to COVID-19.
“What we cannot surmise from the results is we have immunity,” Chief Vedder said. “It’s too early in COVID-19 to determine that.
“We don’t know if you get immunity with the antibody or how long that immunity is good for,” he said.
The good news is that the department’s personal protective equipment is working as are the department’s policies “because we are exposed to COVID-positive patients every day and transfer people to the hospital who are very sick and we have not had an employee who developed COVID-19 as a result,” Chief Vedder noted. “Our policies are working.”
Solon firefighters are wearing a surgical masks anytime they are on duty, Chief Vedder continued, and go to an even higher level of protection if dispatchers determine a patient has symptoms of the virus. That extra equipment includes a higher grade of mask, a gown and goggles.
“This is the new normal, this level of protection,” Chief Vedder said. They have even responded to fire calls in apartments of COVID-positive patients.
“You would assume they are coughing if they came out of fire, but in this case they were COVID positive,” he said. “We have to wear protection all the time.”
While each individual who took the test, which involved a blood draw, received results in about a week, Chief Vedder said the overall results will be interpreted and findings released at year’s end.