A first responder’s job is not easy, and with the COVID-19 outbreak their jobs have gotten harder and more dangerous. Across Missouri, police officers, firefighters and EMTs have contracted COVID-19.
Gov. Mike Parson and Annie Hui, the director of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, announced an emergency rule Tuesday that allows any first responder to receive workers’ compensation if they are quarantined or contract COVID-19.
Hui and Parson said that the rule creates the assumption that the virus was contracted while “in the line of duty,” and thus is an injury sustained while on the job.
“This new rule allows them to focus on their important lifesaving mission knowing they and their loved ones will be provided for by the workers’ compensation program,” Hui said.
The rule will go into effect April 17, but it will cover first responders who have already been infected or quarantined.
“It is a job most people don’t want to do, but others expect them to do it,” Parson said.”Our first responders risk themselves every day, especially right now.”
Local representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters were present at the announcement, and expressed their gratitude to Parson and Hui for their support of first responders during this time.
“As police officers, we never know if the next person we encounter will be exposing us to coronavirus, but that will not stop us from responding to calls when a member of the public needs us,” said Jeremy Bowman, Jefferson City police officer and president of Jefferson City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 19. “But if we are exposed to this deadly virus, knowing that it will be treated as a duty-related illness will allow peace of mind for our officers and our loving families.”
According to Bowman, across the state, as many as 100 police officers have been affected by this virus, either because they are quarantined or because they have contracted the disease themselves. Bowman said right now in Kansas City, five police officers are confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, and there are eight in St. Louis.
“We cannot work from home. We cannot fight fires, take care of sick and injured people or arrest a dangerous suspect remotely,” Bowman said. “We must show up to work regardless of any circumstance. The public needs us and expects us to perform our duties every day and that’s exactly what we will keep doing.”
As of 3 p.m. April 7, there were 3,037 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Missouri and 53 deaths. In Boone County, there have been 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death, according to the city of Columbia’s website.
Jobless claims soar
Rising number of unemployment claims was also heavily discussed during the briefing. Last week alone the department took over 104,000 claims, Hui said. The volume of claims the department is receiving even trumps the number they were getting during the height of the 2008-2009 recession, she said.
“To date, we’ve already taken more claims in the last few weeks than the entire year of 2019,” Hui said.
In response to the high volume of calls and traffic her department is getting during this time, Hui has asked the public to take a few steps before trying to call.
First, she urged those with questions to look at the Frequently Asked Questions on the department’s website.
“The answers on the website will be exactly the same as the answers the staff are going to give you,” she said.
Second, she advised those with further questions to watch the videos on the website. The videos explain how to file a claim, what to expect after filing and how to file a weekly claim, among other topics.
“We understand there are a lot of people new to the unemployment program,” Hui said. “These videos can help explain the program process and the benefits.”
She stressed that her department is working hard trying to get as many questions and claims answered as they can, as quickly as they can.
“We hope that you will treat our team members with courtesy and recognize that they are helping thousands of people each day through every resource we have available to us,” she said.