Local police officers and first responders are doing what they can to maintain their own health while they continue working to keep the public safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
The most fundamental change they’ve put in place is social distancing — to the degree they can. Police and fire stations remain open, but the community has been instructed not to enter the buildings except for emergencies. Any business that can be handled over the phone is done that way now. If officers can talk to people outside the station or outside homes at an appropriate distance, they are doing so.
“Of course, if there’s an emergency people can come in — we’re never going to not carry out our duties,” Eastham Police Chief Adam Bohannon said. “But the fewer people to come in and out of the building the better.”
Truro Police Chief Jamie Calise agreed, adding, by email, that the department has placed some restrictions on the ways officers work in the building to promote safer interaction. Across the board, police cruisers and ambulances are being wiped down regularly and department buildings are also being cleaned.
Wellfleet Police Chief Mike Hurley said one thing that’s particularly difficult about social distancing is that it results in a loss of community policing. “We’re not out in the community where we’re typically visiting schools and coffee shops,” Hurley said. “That has had a huge impact.”
As for limiting officers’ exposure to people who may have Covid-19, new procedures include dispatchers asking more virus-related questions when answering emergency calls. If the caller is experiencing virus-related symptoms, has traveled recently, or has been in recent contact with someone who is sick or has been diagnosed with the virus, “then we know it’s a possible case and we’re making sure we have proper protective gear on,” Eastham Fire Chief Kent Farrenkopf explained.
While officers and EMTs are equipped with protective gear, one strategy for preserving it is to have one person wearing full protective gear (gloves, mask, and gown) respond first to determine whether additional EMTs or police officers are needed or if they can safely stand by outside.
Stocks of protective gear vary. In Eastham, Bohannon said all police officers are equipped with gloves, glasses, and gowns. Both Bohannon and Wellfleet Chief Hurley said they are not requiring officers to wear protective gear on all calls they respond to but only when dealing with someone who is sick.
Fire Chief Farrenkopf said his department has enough protective gear to last another couple of weeks. He is concerned, though, because additional gear has been back-ordered for more than a month. Meanwhile, in Truro, Chief Calise said his department has not had a shortage of protective gear yet.
Because first responders work closely with the public and with each other, they are especially aware of the importance of keeping the virus from sweeping through their departments.
There is a “continuity of operations” plan in the event that multiple staff members test positive for the virus. In that case, the affected department could seek mutual aid from surrounding towns, state police, National Park police, or, in an extreme situation, the National Guard.
“There’s stress,” said Hurley, because, like everyone else in the community, the officers and EMTs have families they return home to at the end of the day.
Provincetown Police Chief Jim Golden did not respond to a phone call or email for this story.