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Lawmakers Press Feds To Protect Firefighters From COVID-19

USFS Gila National Forest

Wildfire season is upon us. As fire crews start heading out, politicians and the Trump administration are at odds over the measures needed to keep firefighters safe and on the job.

COVID-19 testing requirements currently depend on where firefighters are working. For example, any firefighter coming into Alaska is automatically tested. On the federal level, testing isn’t mandatory. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia introduced a bill this week that would change that.

Manchin argued for comprehensive testing during a Senate hearing this week.

“At this time, consistent with CDC guidance, the testing of asymptomatic employees is not recommended," said Amanda Kaster, an acting deputy assistant secretary with the Department of Interior.

"That doesn’t make any sense at all," Manchin replied. "We’re asking people to go into a work environment and not knowing if they’re going to be associated with people that have been affected or not.”

At a separate House hearing on Wednesday, Laura McCarthy, New Mexico's state forester, testified in support of greater firefighter protection measures.

“We have found ourselves dealing with the implications of a firefighter who left a fire after it was over, found a positive test five, six, seven, 10 days later and then having to deal with the cascade of effects," McCarthy said.

Effects like fellow firefighters being quarantined for 14 days rather than fighting fires.

As of Wednesday, Manchin's bill has one cosponsor, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Copyright 2021 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.

Noah Glick is from the small town of Auburn, Indiana and comes to KUNR from the Bay Area, where he spent his post-college years learning to ride his bike up huge hills. He’s always had a love for radio, but his true passion for public radio began when he discovered KQED in San Francisco. Along with a drive to discover the truth and a degree in Journalism from Ball State University, he hopes to bring a fresh perspective to local news coverage.

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