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Coronavirus forces Petaluma fire station closure

Station 3 on South McDowell Boulevard is being professionally cleaned and 15 firefighters are under quarantine until they can be tested for the virus.|

The Petaluma Fire Department has shut one of its stations and put 15 firefighters — about 25% of its personnel — in isolation or quarantine after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19.

Station 3 on South McDowell Boulevard is being professionally cleaned and could be reopened as early as Monday, Fire Marshal Jessica Power said.

The announcement of the fire station’s closure came the same day public health officials announced that Mendocino County would soon join most other California counties on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, triggering a wave of new restrictions.

The safety measures in Petaluma were imposed when one member of the station’s crew tested positive for coronavirus on July 19. The firefighter has since been placed in isolation.

Power said 14 other crew members who worked closely with the him are now in quarantine at least until they undergo testing, on Wednesday.

Power said she doesn’t know the age of the of the firefighter who was stricken, but he is exhibiting symptoms of the illness. His condition has not required hospitalization, she said.

Emergency crews have minimal contact with the public outside of emergency calls. Outside activities are limited and no one outside the crew is allowed inside the station. “It is assumed he contracted it on the job,” Power said.

The quarantine of so much personnel has strained the resources of the 58-person department.

“It means that members of other shifts have to be reassigned and work overtime to meet our daily staffing,” Power said.

While the station is closed, an alternate crew is being put up at the Hampton Inn. The fire engine and ambulance housed at Station 3 have been disinfected and also are being stored at the same hotel until it is safe to reoccupy the firehouse, Power said.

In the meantime the Rancho Adobe Fire Department is prepared to help Petaluma, if necessary, in responding to emergency calls.

In response to the pandemic the Petaluma Fire Department has implemented procedures to protect against transmission of the virus within its ranks and with the public, including wearing N95 or surgical masks while outside the station, in the department’s apparatus and in the station when there is another person in the room.

Cases in Sonoma County continue to grow, with public health officials announcing 93 new cases on Saturday. More than half of the 2,559 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported since the pandemic began in early March have been reported in July.

In Mendocino County, officials announced Saturday the county would soon be placed on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list of counties struggling to contain the virus.

Mendocino County Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan reported that state officials notified her that the county would officially make the list on July 28. The county is currently experiencing rapid growth in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, a growing trend that is landing many counties on the list.

Under state criteria, counties that had at least 100 new infections per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days are flagged for possible placement on the list. For Mendocino County, with a population of 90,000, the threshold is 90 new cases during that period.

Mendocino County health officials said that as of Saturday, the county has seen 120 cases in the past two weeks.

In anticipation of being placed on the list, the Mendocino County health officer has ordered the closure of indoor operations of gyms and fitness centers; places of worship and cultural ceremonies, like weddings and funerals; offices for non-essential sectors; personal care services, like nail salons, body waxing and tattoo parlors; hair salons and barbershops; indoor shopping malls.

Officials said these industries must shut down unless they can be modified to operate outside, such as under a canopy or other sun shelter for sufficient air movement or by pick-up.

“Mendocino County has been preparing for this moment for over 6 months,” Doohan said. “The COVID-19 surge has arrived here now, and for this reason we have been placed on the state watch list.“

You can reach Staff Writers Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com and Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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