After 18 Police And Fire Dispatchers Sickened In COVID-19 Outbreak, Union Leader Says Jersey City Should Be Doing More

JERSEY CITY, NJ — The president of Jersey City’s largest municipal employees’ union criticized the city’s response to a coronavirus outbreak that left 18 Jersey City police and fire dispatchers out sick from work and one in the hospital.

Julio Cordero Jr., the president of the Jersey City Public Employees Union Local 246, said the city failed to respond quickly and thoroughly to an outbreak this month at the city’s Bishop Street public safety communications center.

The city’s response was “a day late, a dollar short” and risked public safety, Cordero said. The city should be sanitizing the facility at least once every three days, he said, and should have immediately cleaned the building’s aged ventilation system, whose vents are “blacker than black” with dirt. But the city did not take those steps, nor did it conduct “proper” contact tracing, Cordero said.

“There is no urgency,” he said. “Since Day One, when this outbreak started, they should have been here spraying it down, cleaning crews, all this other stuff. But they’re taking their f—— time.”

Jersey City spokeswoman Kim Wallace-Scalcione said the city has strong COVID-19 safety procedures and the outbreak is under investigation “to determine the cause of any spread.”

“Since day one, every single municipal building has had the same strict safety protocols in place, and when properly followed, is proven to prevent the spread of the virus,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “Plexiglas barriers were also installed early on for the protection of any dispatchers who weren’t already sitting six feet apart, in conjunction with increased cleaning, first priority vaccinations for dispatchers since January, ample sanitation supplies, regular testing, and all other steps that were taken for all public safety and city employees.”

As of Tuesday, one dispatcher is still hospitalized, Cordero said. Many of those sickened had recently received their first shot of the Moderna vaccine, but, according to the CDC, it can take up to two weeks for immunity after both shots.

Outbreaks in the police dispatch center could have a direct impact on public safety, Cordero said. The facility normally has six call takers working each shift, during which they direct calls to police and firefighters. But the outbreak has caused the center to be short-staffed, he said; at one time, only half of the shift’s employees could make it to work.

“The calls for services get backed up,” Cordero said. “When we have three call takers and there are emergencies out there on calls to service, they get delayed.”


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