The nation’s 9/11 first responders, many of whom were made sick from working at Ground Zero, have been taking extra precautions during the coronavirus outbreak, to ensure that their compromised immune system does not come into contact with the virus.
It was in the days after the 2001 terror attacks that thousands of construction workers, police officers and firefighters worked in the rubble piles where the World Trade Center previously stood, and in the years since, many of them have seen a decline in their health, often dealing with respiratory ailments. With many of them still having breathing issues, contracting COVID-19 could prove deadly, meaning many of our nation’s heroes have been forced to isolate themselves from others in the hopes that they don’t contract the virus.
BOSTON-AREA HOSPITALS SEE MORE THAN 100 WORKERS TEST POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS
Despite the cause for concern, many first responders have been trying to keep a level head throughout the current crisis. “I should be fine. It’s just really about staying mindful of staying clear,” Lt. Michael O’Connell (ret.) of the New York City Fire Department said to Fox News. He was a 25-year-old probationary firefighter or “proby” when he spent 9/11 assisting with rescue efforts and spent the weeks after sifting through the soot and rubble piles at Ground Zero as a part of bucket brigade searches.
“I had responded in and my Captain Shelly Baracus, who has since passed away of 9/11 [related] cancer, he grabbed me, knowing that I hadn’t even graduated from the academy yet and the words he said to me was, ‘you don’t leave my side all day. You’re my proby and you are coming home with me at the end of this tour,’” recalled O’Connell of the day of the terror attacks.
The lieutenant spent those days after 9/11 working 24-hour shifts on and off and as a result developed sarcoidosis, a disease in which collections of inflamed cells abnormally form within the lungs and develop into lumps known as granulomas, in 2009. O’Connell was forced to retire early from FDNY. He’s spent the time since raising his family and working with advocacy groups like the Feal Good Foundation to help other first responders get help through the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S., O’Connell has been spending his days like most others, social distancing along with his wife and three children.
WILL CORONAVIRUS-INFECTED PEOPLE DEVELOP IMMUNITY?
“I have a home in Pennsylvania that we had built when I came out of the Fire Department,” he said. “We’re going back and forth with the majority of the time we’re going to spend there because it’s in the mountains. It’s really secluded from everybody. And I think that’s like the safest place for me. But because of my wife’s work, even though she’s working from home and the kids with their schooling and stuff need to be homeschooled, you know, it’s easier to be on Long Island because this is where all this stuff is.”
“Normal life for us right now is taking care of them, her taking care of her work and me taking care of myself.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) World Trade Center Health Program recently released guidelines that provided instructions on how first responders can prevent contracting COVID-19 and that they will cover testing and treatment.