A fire department in McCleod County is suspending service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Plato Fire Department suspended operations at 8 p.m. Tuesday, meaning it won't be responding to emergency calls in the community it serves, which has about 320 people, the department said on Facebook Wednesday.
The fire chief made this decision after three-quarters of the 20-person volunteer fire department tested positive or were exposed to the novel coronavirus, FOX 9 reports.
This is the first time a fire department in Minnesota is out of service due to the pandemic, the news station notes.
"This is due to a recent increase in localized COVID-19 cases," the Facebook post says. "The health and wellbeing of the community, our department members and their families is of utmost importance."
Instead of the Plato Fire Department responding to calls within its jurisdiction, it has made arrangements with the McLeod County Sherriff's Department, Allina Ambulance, Ridgeview Ambulance, Glencoe Fire Department, Lester Prairie Fire Department and Norwood Young America Fire Department "to keep our service area protected," the post notes.
"We will be monitoring all calls and working with our dispatch center to call mutual aid assets as needed," the fire department said.
The fire department is closely monitoring the situation and has a plan that will help it resume operations as staffing becomes available, the post adds.
Other agencies impacted
Although this appears to be the first fire department to fully suspend service due to lack of personnel, it isn't the first time a public safety agency has had to shift staffing due to the pandemic.
Most recently, the Duluth Police Department said on Nov. 10 it is phasing in an emergency schedule between now and Nov. 19 because COVID-19 has impacted staffing at the department.
Police Chief Mike Tusken posted to Facebook Nov. 6 to note that as of that date 29 department staff, including himself, were quarantining from exposure to the virus. However, most of them haven't tested positive – since mid-October, the department has had 14 reported positive COVID-19 cases.
The department's emergency schedule has patrol officers working five days a week and then will have 10 days off, with the department calling this a "built-in quarantine period." Investigative staff will be on three rotating shifts and serve as back-up for patrol, while staff who can work remotely have been instructed to do so.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
All of this comes as Minnesota is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and virus-related hospitalizations. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported a record 56 deaths and 4,900 new COVID-19 cases.
MDH also reported a total of 1,299 COVID-19 hospitalizations, which is a new record that includes 282 patients in intensive care. What's more, the number of patients hospitalized in Minnesota with COVID-19 has nearly doubled in the last 14 days.