AUSTIN (KXAN) — An officer with the Austin Police Department who was infected with COVID-19 has recovered and went back to work Friday.
Officer Ross Pranter, a patrol officer in central east Austin, believes he caught the new coronavirus from someone he interacted with while on duty. This was before the department mandated that masks be worn at all times, only when in contact with someone who was symptomatic.
“This particular call was called by a neighbor, so those questions were unable to be asked,” Pranter told reporters Friday, “and I went in without any personal protective equipment.”
Austin Police announced last month two employees, one sworn officer and one civilian employee, tested positive for the disease. It has not had any more cases since then, and the civilian employee has also recovered and is back at work.
Pranter spoke with reporters at a free drive-thru barbecue lunch the Austin Police Association and Cops for Charities, the group’s charitable arm that supports officers, provided for hundreds officers and other first responders, as well as people experiencing homelessness in a nearby encampment.
He wanted to illustrate the symptoms of COVID-19 can vary widely, and he never experienced a cough or significant fever, two of the disease’s primary warning signs.
“[My symptoms] were very different than what’s being advertised,” he said. “I woke up without taste or smell, which was my first symptom. At the time I believed it was allergies or sinuses, because it has happened to me before.”
That was March 27, and he went to work. He was training a new officer and took a break for the lunch his wife made him.
“I called my wife and told her, you know, ‘Lunch would have been good had I been able to enjoy it,'” he said. She recognized his lack of taste as a possible symptom, and his supervisor sent him and the new officer home, along with shift-mates he’d interacted with in the previous days.
He struggled with nausea, restlessness and fatigue over the weekend before being tested Monday. Tuesday he got the news the test was positive. Over the next two and a half weeks he was quarantined at home, the symptoms came in waves every few days, subsiding in between.
Three weeks after he was sent home, he returned to duty to start training new officers again.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of faith or not,” said Austin Police Association president Ken Casaday, “it’s just a blessing.”
‘We’ve been so fortunate’
Casaday said the department uses a disinfecting fogger to sanitize all police cruisers every day. Officers are now required to wear masks unless they’re alone in a patrol car.
Despite the virus infecting more than a thousand Travis County residents as of Friday, the department has only recorded two positive cases.
“We have officers tested on a fairly frequent basis, and that’s when someone goes home with a fever or they have the symptoms that they’re seeing with COVID,” Casday explained. He’s thankful when results come back confirming either the flu or strep throat.
“We’ve been so fortunate here in Austin,” he said. Their brothers and sisters in blue in New York City are fighting a very different reality. “They’ve had several officers that have died, they’ve got several home that are very sick, they’ve got officers on ventilators.”
‘There is hope’
Pranter is also thankful he recovered from the illness and is back at work.
“My shift-mates, because of me, were also quarantined for 14 days. None of them came back positive or even symptomatic at that,” he said. “You don’t want to be that guy that’s ground-zero for this, and that was my biggest fear, so being back and having all my shift-mates back with me means the absolute world to me.”
He also offered a message of support for anyone else infected with the disease.
“There is hope that those who are currently battling it, that we’re going to get through this,” he said. “I have.”