COVID-19 has changed the way first responders respond to calls

While government leaders are urging people to stay home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, there are others who don't have the option of working from home: first responders.

This week, we've begun to hear about positive cases in a couple of Bay Area police departments. Those responding to emergencies continue to carry out life-saving work in a constantly evolving situation. But when the danger is something they can't see, it's a whole new ballgame.

"We're not able to do our job with a mask on, so we are taking all the precautions we can," said Sgt. Charles Hathcox of Tampa Police Department.

The Tampa Police Department announced Wednesday that one of their officers tested positive for COVID-19; 30 others are under quarantine, with 45 being monitored. 

READ: Tampa police officer tests positive for COVID-19; 35 officers quarantined

Thursday, St. Petersburg police confirmed a non-sworn employee in their emergency communications center tested positive, too. Four other employees who may have come into contact with the sick worker have self-quarantined.

Often, the emergency communications center is the first line of defense.

"They're screening the people that call in to see if they've experienced any of the symptoms and if they have, that's relayed to the officers on the street and the officers on the street are made aware of that before they go to these calls they have to respond to," Hathcox said.

"Obviously, if you're in a situation where you're having to perform CPR, you're not going to ask those types of questions," Chief Brian Dugan said, Wednesday. "It's the dangers of the job right now."

READ: Four Tampa General Hospital employees test positive for COVID-19

When possible, Hathcox said, in-person officer responses are limited.

"Now, we're handling runaways over the phone, petty thefts, some traffic crashes, missing persons," he said.

Over at St. Pete PD, the emergency communications center is sanitized daily. A volunteer from St. Anthony's checks employees' temperatures twice a day and there are hand-sanitizing stations on each floor.

There are 77 employees taking calls to 911 and the building is large enough for everyone to spread out while they work.

Sgt. Hathcox always carried gloves on duty. Now, he brings a protective mask, just in case it's needed.

"Our squad, we're no longer holding roll calls together in person," Hathcox said.

Though officers, too, try to practice social distancing, when duty calls, rest assured, they'll answer.

"We'll respond, we know the risks of our job and we will take care of the public the best we can," Hathcox said. "We'll all get through this."

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

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