The new coronavirus doesn’t care about a blue uniform or a shiny badge.
It’s sickened thousands of America’s first responders and killed dozens more.
But many have recovered, and they’re going back to work — back to the crime scene, back into the ambulance, back to the jail.
Some of their stories from the front lines of the deadly pandemic:
Paramedic Alex Tull of the New York Fire Department feels out of breath after walking up a few flights of stairs and has a cough that just won’t quit. After some recent chest pains, an X-ray showed lingering inflammation in his lungs.
As he goes about his days treating coronavirus patients in the Bronx, he thinks about his own battle with the disease and his rush to return to duty late last month before he was fully healed.
At the height, about a quarter of the city’s 4,300 EMS workers were out sick. Nearly 700 fire department employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and eight have died, including three EMS workers.
Tull, 38, says he felt guilty convalescing at home for two weeks, flipping through Netflix and Hulu between naps as his colleagues risked their lives. He wondered: “Why did this have to happen to me? I want to be out there. I want to get out there and help.”
But it wasn’t just a matter of loyalty for the 10-year fire department veteran. A policy put in place as the virus ravaged the ranks mandated that personnel who no longer showed symptoms return to work as soon as possible.
“I definitely went back to work earlier than maybe I should have,” Tull said.
Without definitive proof that he’s immune from spreading or contracting the disease, Tull fears his nagging cough might infect his partner or their patients. And with little more than a face mask and gloves for protection, he worries he’ll come down with the virus again.
“Is my body ready for round two? I don’t know. It is scary,” Tull said.
Sgt. Cary Oliva was frustrated watching the news of his coronavirus-stricken city from his sick bed. The 31-year-old New York Police Department officer longed to be back at work helping with what was fast becoming one of the deadliest disasters in its history.
“I felt like I was on the sidelines,” he said. “I was pretty eager to come back as soon as possible, as long as it was safe.”
In all, more than 4,600 employees at the nation’s largest police department have tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 2,900 have recovered and returned to full duty. At least three dozen died.
Oliva went back April 6 and immersed himself in a new police mission: educating the public about social distancing measures that experts say are vital to reducing the spread of infection. Protective mask on his face and hand sanitizer nearby, Oliva spends his afternoons cruising by takeout restaurants and other businesses looking for gaps in social distancing protocols.
“I dove right back into it,” he said.