Coronavirus: What Police Need to Know About COVID-19

Hundreds of police officers have been exposed to the disease, with nearly 200 reported cases in Washington state alone. Here are some thoughts on how police officers can keep safe amid this current pandemic crisis.

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Coronavirus—also known as COVID-19—is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person, typically via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The disease can live for many days on hard surfaces such as door knobs and other objects multiple people frequently handle.

A great deal of attention in the mainstream media has been given to the "social distancing" and "self-isolation" in order to prevent further spread of the disease. Businesses like restaurants and bars have been shuttered across the country, and many streets appear virtually abandoned. Tech workers are writing code from their kitchens and living rooms as opposed to swarming the vast open workspaces of Silicon Valley. They can be just as productive at home as anywhere else.

However, as I wrote last week in this space, law enforcement officers—and all public safety workers, really—don't have the same opportunity to do their jobs in their pajamas.

Police, firefighters, EMTs, medical workers all must report for duty and come into contact with some of the most likely carriers of this new and novel disease.

In fact, hundreds of police officers across the country have been exposed to the disease, with nearly 200 reported cases in the state of Washington alone. Cases have also been reported in Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

Here are some thoughts on how police officers can keep safe amid this current pandemic crisis.

Proper Hygiene

Practice proper hygiene by promptly washing or sanitizing hands after coughing, sneezing, or physically interacting with another person. Wash your duty gear. Be meticulous about sanitizing your patrol vehicle after every transport.

Wear a mask—rated to N95 or higher—if coming into contact with someone who you suspect to be a carrier of COVID-19. Keep a good supply of disposable gloves—and practice proper procedures for the disposal of used gloves. Know how to properly use all of your agency-issued PPE, including isolation gowns or coveralls.

Wear eye protection—sunglasses in daytime is fine but you may consider getting a pair of non-prescription eyeglasses for night time.

Don't touch your face.

Don't hug people.

Limit Contacts

For years, I've railed against the trend of "de-policing" in America, arguing that the cessation of proactive policing is bad for society. I've said that when police start behaving like firefighters—only responding to calls and taking into account the level of destruction at the crime scene, long after the suspects have left—the victims will have little more than an incident report in their hands at the end of the day.

I've changed my tune on that—at least for the time being.

For the foreseeable future, the best way for police officers to slow the spread of Coronavirus is to have as little contact with subjects as possible. Answer calls. Respond to crimes in progress. Whenever plausible, keep a good distance from anyone you're interviewing. The Centers for Disease Control says six feet—I'd go with ten.

Know Yourself

Listen to your body. As soon as you begin feeling any of the known symptoms, stay home and rest. See your physician or go to the hospital to be tested for COVID-19.

Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, dry cough, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms can appear within just two days of exposure, or can fester unnoticed for up to two weeks before manifesting.

Eat a healthy diet, limit alcohol consumption, get plenty of rest, and find ways to get in your workout—push-ups, sit-ups, and a brisk walk—now that all the gyms are closed.

Stay Connected

You've completed your shift and you're home, being a responsible adult and keeping sheltered in place with your spouse, your roommates, or just your pet cat. Don't fall trap to watching the news for hours on end. Get online and chat with a friend or a relative.

Yes, we're all stuck in our own homes, but we have ample available technology to remain in contact with our loved ones—social media, Skype, Zoom, and just the handheld phone are at your disposal. Use them as much as possible. We're all in this together, albeit apart.

Final Words

According to U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, the diseases that should most concern law enforcement are those that are spread by casual contact between individuals. If a respiratory disease—such as influenza or measles—is spreading throughout the community, officers will be exposed repeatedly. As the incidence of a disease increases in the community, it also will increase among law enforcement officers, unless specific measures are taken to prevent infection.

Epidemiologists say it will take years to fully understand the mechanics of the Coronavirus outbreak, and how it differs from other pandemics throughout history. Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19. Young, healthy law enforcement officers may contract Coronavirus, but are likely to return to full health in a short time as long as they follow the direction of their physician.

One thing that many experts are beginning to agree on is that this crisis will change the world—forever. It will change the trajectory of human behavior, social norms, use of technology, education, and commerce.

For instance, the fight over homeschooling—lauded by millions of independently minded parents but opposed by teachers' unions and the elected leaders who are beholden to them—has now all but been decided, with kids at home with family and doing their schoolwork online.

That toothpaste is not going back in the tube—ever.

For police though, there will always be bad guys to be brought to justice. There will always be victims to be consoled and healed. This won't change. But because of the way in which the world will change, you're going to have to evolve the way you do your job.

Be safe in these uncertain and unsettling times.

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