Taunton police close to full strength after 16 officers tested positive for COVID-19

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TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — On March 26, the Taunton Police Department announced three officers had tested positive for COVID-19.

That number grew to 16 by the end of the month. It was the second highest in the state, only behind the Boston Police Department.

On Thursday, Chief Edward Walsh told Eyewitness News the number of cases has dropped to nine.

“We started about 3-4 weeks ago, we got our first positive COVID-19 case,” he said. “It spread quickly through the department and we were able to identify the source officer and take preventive steps. Good news for us is that we’ve actually had officers return to work. We’ve had seven officers return to work already.”

No one on his staff has been admitted to Morton Hospital, which is being transformed into a regional COVID-19 treatment facility.

By virtue of the work they do, it comes to no surprise that police officers are more at risk to contract COVID-19.

“There was an expectation that we would eventually see some positive results because of our work in the community,” the 10-year chief explained. “But this actually happened through internal spread, social spread. It didn’t come in through the way we thought it would.”

While nearly 20 percent of his force was at home in isolation, Walsh said they still had the staffing to deal with the circumstances and that “it didn’t hurt us that badly.”

At the station, there are preventative measures being taken. The station and cruisers are decontaminated multiple times per day and officers are required to wear face masks, according to Walsh.

“We basically shut the building down,” he said. “Required everyone to wear masks in the department, made arrangements for testing for all officers.”

As for the ones who tested positive and have since returned to active duty, they had to pass strict tests — stricter than most CDC requirements.

“I wanted a doctor’s note saying they were virus-free,” Walsh said. “One of our concerns was bringing someone back prematurely because they’re healthier.”

“We’re generally requiring two negative tests done two days apart,” he added. “We wanted to make sure that any officer who was tested positive was cleared to come back medically.”

Had the situation gotten worse a few weeks ago, or if it flares up again, the department has plans in place so it can properly serve its community.

“We’ve had talks with other departments, with the state police, and with the National Guard that if we needed to bring additional personnel in, then they would be made available,” Walsh said.

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