Coronavirus, Infectious Disease, and Officer Safety

The Coronavirus is presently not a substantial threat to American law enforcement but its emergence into the national narrative provides an opportunity to remember that other threats pose a significant danger, and to recall that some simple steps can prevent succumbing to infectious disease.

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Earlier this week, we reported that five officers with the New York Police Department have voluntarily quarantined themselves after returning home from vacation locations that have been connected with the spread of COVID-19, colloquially known as Coronavirus.

According to the New York Post, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all five are asymptomatic, but setting themselves aside out of an abundance of caution.

All five officers had traveled to places known to have had cases of Coronavirus and subsequently volunteered to quarantine themselves out of an abundance of caution. One of the officers had vacationed in China, where the epidemic started.

Prior to that we reported that five officers with the Dallas Police Department were ordered to stay home temporarily after arresting a man whom jail officers later reported had a "possible case of COVID-19" on Sunday.

All five officers who came in contact with the person they arrested were "notified of the potential exposure and given a day off for precautionary reasons."

The grim reality is that law enforcement officers—all first responders, hospital workers, and public service providers—can potentially be exposed to infectious diseases at almost any moment during their daily shift. Cops come into daily contact with countless individuals who are carriers of everything from hepatitis to tuberculosis to a variety of sexually transmitted diseases.

Here are some thoughts on providing public safety services in the whirlwind of countless possible diseases coursing through the veins of those you contact, and the air you breathe.


The COVID-19 virus is now spreading rapidly outside of mainland China—from which the disease originated—even as that country is recording hundreds of confirmed cases while many others are reported globally.

Currently, more than 95,000 people in 86 countries have been infected with the Coronavirus virus, with more than 3,200 fatalities.

As of today (Friday, March 6th, 2020), the death toll in the United States from the Coronavirus outbreak is 14, with more than 225 cases confirmed across the country.

Of the 14 deaths in the United States, 13 occurred in Washington and one in California. The Golden State immediately declared a state of emergency after the first death was confirmed there.

A total of 20 states have reported non-fatal cases of the virus.

President Donald Trump just signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to combat the virus.

The word "pandemic" has been bandied about in the mainstream media. Some infectious disease experts say Coronavirus meets their criteria for this label—others do not.

For context, I looked into the severity of a variety of a couple pandemics in recent years.

In the period between March 2009 and March 2010, a total of 12,000 Americans died of the A/H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as "swine flu"—a rational person could reasonably call this a pandemic.

Conversely 2014, a total of 11 people died of Ebola in the United States—yet the disease seized the public's interest for months. The fear of that disease was a substantial driver of news headlines.

Here's the actual bad news: Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year—in part because influenza is infrequently listed on death certificates of people who die from flu-related complications—the agency estimates that there have been between 18,000 and 46,000 deaths from flu just in the time period from October 2019 to February 2020.

That's a staggering number.

Further, there are myriad other infectious diseases out there—everything from Norovirus to Salmonella to Pneumonia to the "Common Cold."

All first responders have to protect themselves at all times from contagious disease. Here are some thoughts on how to accomplish that goal.


According to the Baylor University College of Medicine, "There are a number of different routes by which a person can become infected with an infectious agent. For some agents, humans must come in direct contact with a source of infection, such as contaminated food, water, fecal material, body fluids or animal products. With other agents, infection can be transmitted through the air."

The CDC—the lead agency identifying, studying, and recommending remediation for a host of health threats to American workers, including first responders—recommends the wearing of disposable gloves, eye protection, and face masks rated to N95 mask or higher.

Officers almost always put nitrile gloves on their hands during a citizen contact. The operative word in that sentence is "almost." Consider increasing the use of these gloves—they're cheap by comparison to the cost of hospitalization.

Speaking of hands—J.D. Buck Savage famously said in his training videos, "Watch the hands." He was talking of course of the subject's hands. However, in an era of unknown threats from virulent viruses, it's also a good idea to turn that memorable phrase somewhat and remember to "Wash the hands." Wash your hands every time you have the opportunity to do so.

Stock up on hand sanitizer. You may not have the immediate ability to wash your hands after a contact—in fact, the likelihood is that you're going to have five or six calls before you get the chance to slip into a restroom and scrub those gnarly paws. So take the intermediate step of applying hand sanitizer when you get back into the patrol vehicle. It's not perfect—it kills all kinds of germs, but not all of them—but it's something.

Get vaccinated. There is no vaccine for Coronavirus, of course—presently the threat level on that virulent strain in America is low—but the risk of infection by a whole host of other viruses can be reduced by vaccination. Get your flu shot. Get vaccinated against hepatitis and tetanus while you're at it. Take advantage of the vaccines that presently exist.

Protect your eyes. During daylight hours, a nice pair of wrap-around sunglasses will help protect you from an angry subject's spittle hurled at you, but at night, those sunglasses are impractical. Consider donning a pair of non-prescription clear-lens glasses during citizen contacts.

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.

The Coronavirus is presently not a substantial threat to American law enforcement—or the citizens they protect—but its emergence into the national narrative provides an opportunity to remember that other threats pose a significant danger, and to recall that some simple steps can prevent succumbing to infectious disease.

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