Pregnant city workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are still showing up for work — but in many cases it's because they have no other option, the Daily News has learned.
In the Fire Department's EMS bureau — where women are roughly 50% of the 4,500 workforce — there are 23 pregnant front line workers. Two of them have already tested positive for COVID-19, sources told The News.
Yet riding out the pandemic at home is not an option, unless the women want to burn through all of their sick leave, vacation and comp days — precious time most EMS moms-to-be stockpile as additional maternity leave for when they give birth.
"I am due at the end of the summer. I have been banking all my time for when the baby comes, and I don't want to use it all now," said one FDNY paramedic who found out a few months ago she is pregnant with her second child.
"I'm scared to death I will catch coronavirus, but I have no other choice. The other option is to go out on family leave at 60% pay, and I can't survive on that," she said. "The way I see it, right now the FDNY is paying me to sit around and do nothing at a station house. Couldn't they play it safe and have me sit at home?"
FDNY medical benefits for Emergency Medical Service workers include 12 paid sick days, anywhere from two to four weeks vacation depending on seniority, and comp days from overtime that workers bank instead of extra pay. Pregnant workers can take maternity leave at 60% of their pay for 10 weeks once the baby is born — but after that, they use their own time or go without pay.
The FDNY said it routinely allows pregnant EMTs and paramedics to go on light duty if they ask for it, restricting them to stationhouses to do paperwork and other chores or occasionally driving an ambulance from one station to another. It keeps the pregnant women away from the front lines, but in the days of coronavirus, it does not remove them from all risk.
"I was on light duty when I caught coronavirus," said a pregnant EMT who got COVID-19 earlier this month. The FDNY put her on paid medical leave after her diagnosis. But when her symptoms clear and she's deemed fit to work, she will have to return to light duty — and possible stationhouse exposure — again.
"I'm definitely afraid for my baby and I'm definitely afraid about going back out in the field," said the EMT, who, like her pregnant paramedic colleague, asked to remain anonymous because they weren't authorized by the FDNY to speak to the media.
FDNY firefighters who are pregnant — there are currently just under 100 women Bravest — have different benefits that allow for unlimited paid sick time, giving those women more options if they choose to self-quarantine during the pandemic.
EMT and paramedic union leader Oren Barzilay said he's asked the FDNY to let his pregnant workers stay home for the next few weeks to limit their exposure.
"While I understand there is red tape, these are not ordinary times and the FDNY should just do the right thing," he said.
Other city agencies are grappling with the same issue. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a statement the agency will "defer health and medical decisions to the experts," for pregnant workers and encouraged members to call their own doctors with coronavirus concerns.
The NYPD, in an internal memo dated March 12 obtained by The News, has ordered commanding officers to assign pregnant officers to duties that limit their contact with the general public.
With Clayton Guse and John Annese