First responders, such as cops, have a special responsibility during health crises like this current Chinese coronavirus pandemic. They have to work despite an increased danger of exposure due to the likelihood of physical contact with high-risk populations.
The Seattle Times is reporting the headline, “Seattle police officers may have been exposed to janitor sickened by coronavirus.” Neither the Seattle Police Department (SPD) nor the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) have commented on the matter at the time.
The Sodo (south of downtown) office park complex houses several SPD offices and facilities for units including training, evidence, traffic, parking enforcement, and SWAT. A janitor at the facility, who one officer described as “kind of like family around here,” has tested positive for coronavirus and may have exposed officers to the disease, according to The Seattle Times report. The janitor reportedly went home sick on March 12.
Sources say five officers are now under self-quarantine, and SPD had shut down the facility to have it “deep cleaned.” The department issued a notice and ordered any police personnel who may have come into contact with the janitor between March 3rd and March 12th to attend a medical assessment at the Seattle Police Gun Range.
An unidentified officer told the Times, “Those of us that had face-to-face contact with her had to report to the COVID-19 evaluation place at our range today. The rest were ordered back to work.”
At this time it isn’t known if the two stories are connected, but KTTH Radio host Jason Rantz is reporting that an SPD officer has tested positive for coronavirus. Rantz is reporting that SPOG “is criticizing the city for keeping pertinent details too close to the vest, fearing it could put other officers and the community at risk. They’re demanding some immediate changes.”
Officer Mike Solan, SPOG president, said “the department has not confirmed nor denied the rumor.” In an email to the Guild members on Wednesday, Solan also said he was “perplexed and disappointed, and angry as to why the department has not [responded to the rumor].”
A couple hours later, SPD Chief Carmen Best confirmed the positive test in an email to the entire department. Best wrote, “The employee who tested positive is in isolation and recovering.” She added, “Anyone who came into contact with the employee was screened by a medical doctor, whose services we enlisted to take care of our personnel.”
Though SPOG understands the limitations of the department releasing personal medical information, they’re concerned about what seems to be a secrecy that may keep information from those who need it to stay healthy.
In response, SPOG emailed Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Best and demanded the city and department create procedures for officers to follow before, during, and after a possible exposure.
Rantz reports that SPOG has demanded:
The dissemination of “basic information regarding any SPD Employee who has tested positive for COVID-19.”
An action plan to decontaminate any “SPD Facilities and/or vehicles in the event of an SPD Employee or community member who is symptomatic and/or has tested positive for COVID-19 and had contact with department facilities or shared vehicle.”
A list of all union members currently under quarantine or isolation, updated daily.
A plan to consistently sanitize facilities as a proactive measure.
This shows the nightmare that could occur if first responders —police officers, firefighter/EMTs, paramedics— are exposed in significant numbers. These public servants deserve the best means for prevention and the best care should they become infected with coronavirus.
This piece was written by Steve Pomper on March 19, 2020. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.
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