Virginia firefighters hoping for compensation after contracting COVID-19

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Posted at 1:43 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 16:33:13-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Will Mullins has been in the business of saving others lives for six years as a Hampton firefighter.

"One exposure at work turned my family upside down," said Mullins.

In October, Mullins contracted a nearly fatal case of Coronavirus after doing CPR on a patient in distress.

"A few days later I started coughing up blood and went to emergency room," he said.

Mullins hasn't been back to his job in full capacity since.

"I didn't think I was going to make it," said Mullins in a morning press conference. "I was in the hospital for seven days with high flow oxygen and a myriad of antibiotics."

Mullins was lucky the city of Hampton pinpointed directly when he contracted the virus and he received workers compensation, but hundreds of other first responders in the Commonwealth aren't so lucky.

"Currently resources for firefighters that have COVID are very limited because it's not covered under workers comp act not treated as occupational disease," said Erin Rice, with the Virginia Professional Firefighter's Association.

The Virginia General Assembly is trying to change that, but the version of the bill that is likely to pass is not retroactive.

"Now front line workers are left with thousands of dollars of medical bills and many with lingering health effects," said John Wright also with the association.

The bill which passed in the House of Delegates on February 3, establishes a presumption that the virus causes death of disability to front line workers.

In the house version, nurses and firefighters who were infected with COVID-19 between March 12 and Dec 31 would be eligible for retroactive benefits.

The bill also passed in the Senate on February 18, but with substitutes. The Senate legislation would only apply to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 on or after July 1 of this year.

"They continue to do what they were sworn on oath to do and that is to save lives risking their own health and safety," said Wright.

The bill is in conference committees this week, with three representatives from the House and three from the Senate who must all vote unanimously. A decision will likely be made by Friday.