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The latest COVID surge impacts firefighters' shifts in San Diego

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Across the country, the latest surge in COVID-19 cases is affecting everyone from fast food workers to firefighters.

COLIN STOWELL: We're seeing more people going into isolation than we're seeing come out right now, which is kind of hampering our ability to staff all of our units.

MARTIN: That's Colin Stowell, the fire chief in San Diego, Calif.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

About 130 firefighters, 10% of their workforce, are in isolation due to a positive test or possible COVID exposure.

STOWELL: These are higher numbers than we would've ever expected. And we just don't have the ability right now to staff all of our apparatus due to that number of folks out. This comes on the heels of them working so hard over the last two years through COVID. And we've just got an exhausted workforce. And now we're seeing the effects of COVID similar like the general population is.

MARTIN: Stowell says they've been shifting staff around and relying on overtime to keep all fire stations open. But that does mean idling some teams. For now, they're still responding to all emergency calls. And he's optimistic they won't see a worst-case scenario.

STOWELL: There are some other mechanisms that we can look at - cutting down the number of responses or the types of calls we go on. But we're really hopeful, with the numbers that we're seeing and the short duration that we're seeing these folks in isolation, that it's not going to turn out that way.

MARTINEZ: Stowell thinks the next few weeks may be the hardest until the omicron wave passes.

STOWELL: Our hope is that we can really get through January. Our plan is robust enough that we can still staff all of the fire stations and limit the number of units that we have to shut down until we can get all of our folks back and healthy.

MARTINEZ: And give some of their exhausted firefighters a much-needed break.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SIX PARTS SEVEN'S "SAVING WORDS FOR MAKING SENSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.