The number of police officers out with COVID-19 is now up to 15% of the uniform and non-uniform force, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea said in an on-line discussion Tuesday morning, with an estimated 5,600 officers out on sick leave.
He said 1,200 cops have also tested positive for coronavirus, and he expects the number to rise in the coming days. Nevertheless, Shea believes they are coming to a “plateau” of the cases as the department practices social distancing and takes other precautions to prevent the virus spread.
But just like the rest of the population, the commissioner noted, 80% of those who get the virus have “mild symptoms.” Shea added that 17 officers were returning to work after having recovered from the virus and expects others will return shortly.
However, he mourned the five members of the department who died from the contagion and he cautioned those with pre-existing conditions or have a potentially higher risk to steer clear from taking chances.
“We are trying to make common sense decision, so we ask people to tell us of their pre-existing medical conditions – we are generous with our benefits and our officers get unlimited sick time though most don’t go sick that often,” Shea said. “We have a process in place and we ask officers to tell us about it – the little we do know is that this disease is particularly tough on the elderly and anyone with pre-existing conditions. While the sick numbers are moving up, we don’t want you sick in the workplace – we need you to get better and we will keep it going until you get back.”
Shea said those officers who get sick can talk to the staff of NYPD doctors who will review each case to determine if a test is needed.
“We have people coming back to work, we have people coming back after testing positive for COVID-19, we have people stepping in where people are dropping off. But we don’t want people coming to work sick.”
Shea said he is working with the police unions to make testing more available for officers. He said however that if an officer has mild symptoms, they may not get a test – tests are for those who are really sick.
“It’s really important to keep the front line defenders okay so we are working with the unions to boost up testing availability for our police officers and to boost that capacity so that officer and their families get answers to stay positive,” said Shea, adding that most people do not need a hospital and that 80 percent will have light symptoms and fully recover, but “some people are getting hit hard and we must watch out for everyone.”
The department is also making sure officers have all the protective gear they need. That includes having Tyvek protective suits for officers who go into homes to investigate deaths and other crimes. He said the NYPD is fully supplied with protective gear on hand.
Shea said it was unclear at this time whether an officer with COVID-19 is determined to have a “line of duty” injury because it is unclear where an officer was determined to have gotten the contagion in the first place.
He said police are instructed to stay outside of situations where EMS is working with any person who is sick or suspected of having coronavirus.
Precincts were also being cleaned constantly and the department has hired additional cleaners to sanitize stationhouses. Officers are also stationed outside the precincts to limit the number of people coming inside and give proper instructions to the public on how to file reports.
“We have Tyvek suits on demand when have to go into crime scenes – we have masks on hand, cleaning supplies on hands and hands sanitizer and I hope you are using it generously – the best way to avoid this is to stay apart from people and wash hands frequently,” Shea said.
Shea said that while they deal with the COVID-19 crisis, his officers continue to make gun arrests, investigate homicides and officers in the Bronx yesterday delivered a baby. He said some detectives were even delivering groceries to seniors who must stay inside so not to risk getting the virus.
At this point, Shea said there is no need for 12-hour shifts and he said all precincts and commands are properly manned. He said crime has also dropped significantly, taking some pressure off officers as most people stay inside.
Despite the problems of officers coming down with coronavirus, Shea said officers are still out enforcing social distancing and visiting sites that can potentially become gathering places where people might cluster and infect one another.
Shea complimented officers saying ‘we have the best people on earth – thank you for your sacrifice and we will never forget those who have given everything.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo reported Tuesday that 43,139 people in New York City have been confirmed with COVID-19.
This story originally appeared on amny.com.