Nine firefighters and two dispatchers have tested positive for coronavirus in Attleboro, Massachusetts, according to the mayor, after the city was deemed high-risk for transmission by the state.
One of the firefighters has become "very ill," and is now in serious condition at Rhode Island Hospital.
Attleboro is among 23 communities considered high-risk for transmitting COVID-19 in the state's latest data on the pandemic, landing the city in the red-zone on the community-level risk assessment map.
"We cannot and will not and should not blame this on the firefighters who have recently tested positive," Mayor Paul Heroux said, referring to the high-risk designation. "They are no more or less part of the overall number of people who contributed to our overall rate."
State data shows there have been 60 new cases and 73 positive tests in Attleboro over the past two weeks. The positivity rate has reached 9.3 people per 100,000 in a city with a population of approximately 45,000.
Health officials began "aggressive testing" after learning of one firefighter who tested positive. The outbreak was largely isolated to one shift, according to officials, and most are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. How the virus first permeated the department remains unclear.
"We are working with the city's health department, conducting contact tracing and continuing to take all the necessary precautions to keep our members and the public safe," Attleboro Fire Chief Scott Lachance said, adding the department remains "fully operational."
Officials assured that the department is still able to adequately fill shifts and respond to emergencies. Residents are encouraged to call 911 when there is a need.
The entire department and all equipment has been professionally disinfected, officials said. New air filtration systems are being installed in all four of the city's fire houses, according to the mayor, and in all other city departments where there are typically two or more people working.
The mayor urged residents to take proper coronavirus precautions in a letter to the community, including mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
"As I learn more information about what are the expectations for us as a community from the state, I will let you know," Heroux wrote. "Please stay patient as information is constantly evolving. There is no playbook."