11% of Jersey City Fire Department members tested by the city were positive for COVID-19, a similar rate to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to a memo obtained by Real Garden State.
This is what’s known – Chief Steven McGill stated that 549 of 628 Jersey City Fire Department (JCFD) members were tested and 62 were positive for COVID-19, according to an April 6, 2020, memo obtained by Real Garden State.
This is what’s unknown – even though many firefighters slammed McGill’s crisis leadership, given the nature of firefighting, it’s hard to determine whether an 11.3% positive COVID-19 test rate is average or apocalyptic.
For comparison, the latest numbers from the USS Theodore Roosevelt – which has made national headlines for its own coronavirus outbreak and leadership issues – show that approximately 12.9% of U.S. sailors on the ship tested positive (585 of 4,506, per U.S Naval Institute news).
Adding some context to the numbers, the JCFD 11.3% rate is based on 87% of members and the Navy ship’s 12.9% rate is based on 92% of its crew. According to JCFD sources, it’s believed that the coronavirus infection rate was higher than 11.3% for all Jersey City firefighters because, among other reasons, many went out sick with symptoms prior to the city testing for COVID-19.
Furthermore, McGill’s memo stated that most JCFD members who tested positive were asymptomatic, but didn’t provide a hard number. According to U.S Naval Institute news, about 70% of those who tested positive on the USS Theodore Roosevelt were asymptomatic.
Of interest, Real Garden State obtained an “intelligence report” dated April 7, 2020, containing information supposedly disseminated by the New Jersey Regional Operations & Intelligence Center, that undercounted the JCFD total cases at the time (54 instead of 62). The report stated the JCFD had more than twice as many cases as the Newark Fire Dept. (25) and six times more cases than North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (9).
Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has caused manpower shortages for the JCFD that have resulted in various fire companies temporarily shutting down. With the department already down three companies (23 of 26 companies staffed), there was a three-alarm fire yesterday in Downtown Jersey City – which put a strain on resources and made the city more dependent on mutual aid.
Dubious reporting by Hudson County View
After reading Hudson County View’s (HCV) “scoop” yesterday, reporting on a March 30th memo that states Jersey City firefighters are no longer able to use compensatory time during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s clear that John Heinis has zero JCFD sources.
Quite frankly, it’s likely that the report was published on behalf of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea to make it seem as if JCFD staffing levels haven’t been impacted by the coronavirus. When asked about the newsworthiness of the story, HCV wrote on Facebook that the post was “just an update regarding all hands on deck until this crisis passes.”
Nevertheless, if HCV had any actual sources it would’ve reported the most recent COVID-19 numbers mentioned in McGill’s April 6th memo – which was sent to all Jersey City Fire Department members. As well, despite HCV reporting that Fulop said the city was “anticipating spending about $750,000 to $1 million a week on public safety measures,” sources say Shea & McGill refuse to pay OT to firefighters to maintain full staffing.
Even worse, in an email obtained by Real Garden State, Jersey City Fire Officers Association President Peter Nowak said Shea turned down an offer from the firefighter unions that would have increased manpower by having some JCFD members sacrifice scheduled vacation time in exchange for compensatory time to be taken after the emergency is over.
Of note, the Fulop administration refuses to answer questions and/or provide information to Real Garden State, but this article will be updated if/when they decided to be professional about the situation.
Ultimately, the good news is that one thing was correct from the HCV report – a lot of firefighters out sick due to COVID-19 should be back soon after completing return-to-work procedures detailed in McGill’s memo (see below).