Enforcing the law during a pandemic & taking care of yourself
By Renée Francoeur
As I write this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has characterized COVID-19, or Coronavirus Disease 2019, as a pandemic and the prime minister and his wife have just gone into self-isolation. There’s a hefty dose of fear in the air as we all rush for the hand sanitizer (and some stockpile toilet paper) and many switch to working from home full-time — at least for the time being. First responders, of course, don’t have that option. You can only remind yourselves of your roles and take the necessary, recommended precautions.
The IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) has launched a separate website portal dedicated to aiding law enforcement in learning more about COVID-19 and how agencies can prepare. There’s even a “Staying Healthy as a Police Officer during COVID-19” PDF you can download and customize to your agency. It lists a number of simple steps you can take, such as “educate yourself and participate in training on the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for respiratory protection, if available at your agency.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you have a trained Emergency Medical Service/ Emergency Medical Technician (EMS/EMT) assess and transport anyone you come across in your work as a law enforcement officer who you think might have COVID-19 to a healthcare facility.
Law enforcement officers who must make contact with individuals confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 should follow CDC’s Interim Guidance for EMS.
If close contact occurs during an apprehension, CDC recommends you:
- Clean and disinfect duty belt and gear prior to reuse using a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the product label.
- Follow standard operating procedures for the containment and disposal of used PPE.
- Follow standard operating procedures for containing and laundering clothes.
- Avoid shaking the clothes.
Closer to home, the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN) is offering the course “Infectious Disease and Pandemic Preparedness” for free for the next three months as public safety professionals prepare to cope with the outbreak.
We still don’t know as of yet how the virus has affected Canadian law enforcement, or truly much about how it’s taxing global law enforcement — though we read how Italian police “are out in piazzas, train stations and traffic circles to check documents, issue fines and send people home if their explanations or paperwork is wanting,” after government-imposed restrictions on movement were issued.
In other news, the New York Times released an interesting article on March 12, titled “If Police Officers Get the Coronavirus, Who Will Patrol the Streets?” It looked into how American police departments were making plans to quarantine their own officers if needed and deciding how to “triage” essential safety functions.
This article also touched on the 2003 SARS outbreak when more than 300 police officers in Toronto were quarantined: “Even though only six per cent of the Toronto police force had to be isolated, the shortage of officers meant officials had to reprioritize how to respond to service calls.” The author goes on to say, “Toronto later increased training and planning for disease outbreaks and created a plan to better track infected or exposed officers.”
Along that vein, the Cornwall Police Service (CPS) demonstrated it’s well prepared for COVID-19. The Cornwall Police Services Board recently applauded the efforts of CPS for their handling of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) quarantine at the Nav Centre, where 129 Canadian passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship were brought for quarantine after an on-board outbreak.
The role of the CPS during the course of the quarantine was to enforce all federal and provincial statues within the quarantine zone, enforce the Quarantine Act, and ensure public safety.
Officers who entered the quarantine zone were given N95 face masks, protective goggles and nitrile gloves, according to Cornwall Seaway News. Officers also sanitized their hands with hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving the quarantine zone, on top of other decontamination procedures. More from that article below:
Staff Sgt. George Knezevic explained that there was only one instance when the CPS were asked to intervene in a situation involving a patient under quarantine. Upon the arrival of the Diamond Princess passengers, one 60-year-old man refused to get off the bus and wear a protective mask. CPS were called in, but by the time they entered the quarantine zone, the individual had accepted the order of compliance and had donned the required mask. The officers left the quarantine zone within five minutes and were then decontaminated.
Health Canada has stated that it will reimburse the CPS for any costs they incurred during the course of the quarantine, which Chief Danny Aikman estimates to be over $50,000.
All of the officers who covered the sixty 12-hour shifts during the course of the quarantine were volunteers. All those who worked the quarantine had to be clean shaven in order for the N95 face masks to properly fit, with fellow CPS members shaving in solidarity, according to Knezevic.
I imagine there are other — and will be many more — stories out there similar to this one. Kudos to CPS for a job well done.
Meanwhile, on the same day Ontario’s top health official recommended the cancellation of events with more than 250 people, we also made the decision to postpone our annual Blue Line Expo, which was scheduled to take place on April 21. The safety of our community and everyone involved in the event continues to be our top priority. Stay tuned for more on Blue Line Expo 2020’s new date.
Thank you to all the emergency workers, nurses, doctors, clinic and hospital staff working tirelessly through this pandemic. Hopefully it will soon be contained. Let’s wash our hands properly and often, avoid touching our faces and focus on what we can control.