As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country and the world, frontline workers such as law enforcement and first responders are at risk of encountering individuals who have either tested positive for the disease or are suspected to have contracted it at some point.
In order to allow essential personnel to continue serving safely in their vital roles, it is important that a policy is designed and implemented to ensure that all available personal protective equipment is on hand and utilized in accordance with CDC guidelines.
What Is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the designated name for the respiratory disease that is caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which was first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Due to COVID-19 being a novel virus, this particular coronavirus poses a risk to the entire world population – as nobody has experience being infected and thus gained any kind of immunity. Studies from hospitalizations have shown that a small percentage who is infected may require hospitalization that can lead to death. Due to the high infection rate of COVID-19, it is important that proper protective gear is used at all times.
It is highly likely that both healthcare and front-line first responders will quickly become overwhelmed with calls to aid and transport individuals who are exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19. In order to keep themselves and those, they serve protected, the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is vitally important.
How to Protect Yourself From COVID-19 Infection
For law enforcement and first responders, extra vigilance is necessary to prevent catching and spreading the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control have put together guidance for frontline workers to ensure that they remain safe and prevent spreading the disease to others as they go about their daily duties:
- If possible, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.
- Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available and illicit drugs are NOT suspected to be present, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Do not touch your face with unwashed hands.
- Have a trained Emergency Medical Service/ Emergency Medical Technician (EMS/EMT) assess and transport anyone you think might have COVID-19 to a healthcare facility.
- Ensure only trained personnel wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) have direct contact with individuals who have or may have COVID-19.
- Learn your employer’s plan for exposure control and participate in all-hands training on the use of PPE for respiratory protection, if available.
Recommended PPE for Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders
Due to the high infection rate and the danger posed by the novel coronavirus, It is important to have a full list of the recommended personal protective equipment as well as clear guidance on how to properly wear, utilize, and dispose of these articles after each use. The CDC and local health authorities across the country have developed specific guidance on the PPE recommended, which includes:
- Any NIOSH-approved particulate respirator (i.e., N-95 or higher-level respirator); Facemasks are an acceptable alternative until the supply chain is restored, but should be replaced with an approved respirator as soon as available.
- Eye protection such as goggles or disposable face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face. Please note that personal eye coverings such as eyeglasses or sunglasses are not safe for avoiding infection.
- A single pair of disposable examination gloves for contact with suspects or patients.
- A disposable isolation gown or single-use/disposable coveralls. If an officer or responder is unable to wear a disposable gown or coveralls because it limits access to duty belt and gear, they should ensure that the duty belt and gear are disinfected after contact with an individual.
If you are a member of law enforcement who must make contact with individuals confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, please take note of the full guidance of the CDC’s Interim Guidance for EMS. There are different styles of PPE that may be necessary to perform operational duties across the full spectrum of law enforcement and first responders.
Save Lives With Proper PPE
The added guidelines and expectations of law enforcement and first responder PPE may seem excessive at the moment, but the proper use of these articles have been proven to mitigate and prevent infection from COVID-19, as well as save lives of both personnel and those they serve. As precincts and stations begin to develop a strategy for the use of PPE, as well as the proper methods of sanitation and disinfection, frontline essential workers can continue to remain healthy and protect others throughout the crisis.