Polk Fire Rescue’s medical director wants coronavirus antibody testing for first responders

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County Fire Rescue’s medical director wants to make antibody testing available for all first responders in the county.

Dr. Paul Banerjee will recommend antibody tests at a Board of County Commissioners agenda review meeting Friday morning.

“We’re already doing the drive-by COVID testing, now we’re trying to do the antibody testing,” he said.

Dr. Banerjee, who also works as an ER physician at Osceola Regional Medical Center, tells 8 On Your Side the continued delay for COVID-19 testing results played a role in his push for antibody tests.

“A lot of people locally are trying to do the best they can. But three to four days tends to be a week, 10 days,” he said of the COVID-19 testing results.

Antibody testing shows if the body has developed an immune response to the infection.

“If you test everybody and they have the antibody and you go see a patient, they may be COVID positive, knowing that you have the antibody, you’re not going to get any sicker,” said Dr. Banerjee.

Dr. Banerjee will ask commissioners to allow for testing of Polk Fire Rescue workers, members of the sheriff’s office and other high-risk county employees, including inspectors.

“How do you know the county will have access to these tests?” asked 8 On Your Side reporter Staci DaSilva.

“I’ve already arranged a contract with a company that was recommended by one of the people we work with,” said Dr. Banerjee.

His goal is 2,000 tests.

“A lot of it will be covered by the insurance. I think a lot of it is from the CARES grant that the federal government gave the county. We can offset a lot of the cost. People’s lives are more important than money,” said Dr. Banerjee.

Dr. Banerjee also sets medical protocol for all the county’s first responders.

He said his protocols have changed four times during the pandemic.

“We’ve had zero exposures from improper PPE. zero exposures from patient contact,” said Dr. Banerjee.

County commissioners will also be updated on a COVID-19 local small business survey, county reopenings and CARES Act funding.

Friday’s Agenda Review will be televised live on PGTV and streamed live on WFLA.com.

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