PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Police Department is dealing with a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases among its ranks, with nearly 30 positive cases discovered in about a month.
The department has now exceeded 50 cumulative cases among sworn officers since the start of the pandemic, Col. Hugh Clements confirmed on Friday. But more than half those cases were contracted since the start of October, leading to an increase in precautions and a new distribution of N-95 masks to officers.
According to the R.I. Department of Health, 28 positive cases were confirmed in the department between Oct. 2 and Nov 5.
The number of new positive cases has also been surging throughout the state of Rhode Island, though the prevalence during the past month was higher among Providence Police officers than the general population of both the state and city, according to an analysis of the Health Department’s case data.
The cases are spread amongst difference divisions and officers of various ranks, including the command staff, Clements confirmed.
As of Friday, he said 11 officers are currently at home isolating with the virus.
“There’s really been no rhyme or reason to determine how people have contracted it,” Clements said, noting that many officers appear to be contracting the virus outside of work.
But he acknowledged he has personally seen officers not wearing masks — a common complaint from citizens and activists who sometimes clash with officers during protests — and said he has continued to push the importance of mask-wearing.
“We’ve been driving that from day one,” Clements said. He said commanders sent out two memos last week reminding officers to wear masks, and have distributed a round of N-95 masks.
Unlike civilians, police officers deemed close contacts of COVID-19 cases who are asymptomatic do not have to quarantine for two weeks, since it would severely deplete the ranks of the department.
Department of Health Spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said while anyone who is positive or asymptomatic must isolate at home, those officers who are asymptomatic and deemed close contacts can go to work with certain precautions including wearing a “surgical/N-95 mask or better while at work” and taking their temperature every four hours.
If the officer becomes symptomatic at work they must leave and schedule a test. Asymptomatic close contacts in critical infrastructure jobs who are going to work are also expected to go straight home after work, and not participate in any other activities in the community, Wendelken said.
Chief Clements said it is difficult for anyone in the police department to work from home; even those who don’t work patrol and are investigating cases from their desks may need access to BCI or the evidence room, for example.
But he said the department has continued avoiding in-person gatherings at work such as the weekly command staff meeting (now held virtually) and the shift roll calls, which are also done remotely. Officers also drive one to a car in Providence.