AUSTIN (KXAN) — An employee of the Austin Police Department has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Police Chief Brian Manley.
Manley says the department is not releasing whether that person is an officer or civilian, or which department he or she works in, out of privacy concerns. Manley says APD is working to notify any other employees who came into contact with the infected employee and may have been exposed to the virus. The employee is currently under quarantine at home.
Manley says police officers with symptoms have been utilizing a testing site set up for first responders. Some members of the department are currently self-quaranting, he says.
“We also have a lot of officers right now in quarantine because they’ve come back from places like New York City, New Jersey and New Orleans,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday. “So those people are being kept in quarantine until they can show that they’re healthy and ready to come back from work.”
Meanwhile, Manley says it’s expected that officers may have a better chance of coming into contact with coronavirus than many others, because of their duty to keep serving the public.
“We realize that in our interactions with the community, we could potentially be exposing the community or having our officers get exposed to the virus,” he said. “So, we’re taking many steps as a police department to minimize contact really to only that that’s necessary to maintain overall public safety.”
APD announced earlier in the month that it would not send officers to lower priority calls, rather handling those online or over the phone.
However, critical calls and cases in which evidence needs to be gathered at the scene are still being handled as they usually are, in-person.
Manley says APD began splitting shifts within its detective bureau, having detectives worrk three 12-hour shifts a week when they need to come in for work such as interviews or photo lineups, so that less people are in a unit on any given day.
“But we’ve actually pushed it a little bit further now,” he added, saying, A lot of the work that our investigators do can be done in a telework environment. A lot of the follow up investigations and the report writing, and so to the extent possible, our detectives will work from home in those circumstances, and be able to do their investigations, their computer research, a lot of their documentation.”
On Monday, the department began training its corporals to decontaminate cars with a special fogging system.
Corporals will use the same equipment and industrial-grade germicide that Austin-Travis County EMS has been using in its ambulances for years.
“The officer who is driving that vehicle, if they believe that there has been an exposure, will stop driving that vehicle and we will have a corporal come over,” Manley said. ” They will come over and right there on the side of the road, in the parking lot, wherever we’re at, they’ll be able to decontaminate that vehicle. It’s just a simple misting of the vehicle with this device. The vehicle then has to sit for 15 minutes while that mist decontaminates and kills all the germs, and then you simply go in and wipe it down and the vehicle’s ready to go back in service.”
Casaday says he hopes the department will continue to use the germicide in patrol cars even after the outbreak is over.
“Our cars basically are Petri dishes, and this is something I hope continues even after the coronavirus pandemic is over, because we should be disinfecting our cars for officers on a regular basis,” Casaday said.
Manley says during the outbreak, officers will generally only double up in cars if one is training a police cadet.
In some cases, however, like in the department’s Emergency Communications Division, adjustments can’t be made.
Dispatchers and call-takers have to use technology that’s on-site.
“That is not work that can be done in a telework style from home,” Manley said.
However, to protect all of the department’s essential workers, Manley says a system is in place that lets employees cover for each other, should someone have symptoms and need to isolate for a while.