The union representing rank-and-file Nassau County police officers is concerned that more should be done to protect its members from catching coronavirus while on patrol.
The Nassau Police Benevolent Association (PBA) sent Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder a letter Sunday urging the department to step up its testing of officers and enact other initiatives aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 among its ranks.
“We have police officers out there that have diabetes, heart conditions, respiratory problems, 9/11 illnesses, and we also have female officers that are pregnant that we have to be concerned with,” Nassau PBA President James McDermott told reporters Tuesday during a news conference at his Mineola office. “We’re in a very scary situation here, and we’re trying to limit the exposures as best we can and keep our cops safe.”
As of Wednesday, when the county said it will start using 20,000 coronavirus tests it acquired for first responders, 127 members of the department tested positive, 184 were in quarantine, and 115 were cleared. By comparison, Suffolk County police reported 57 officers tested positive.
The 20,000 tests are done through a finger-prick, offer results in 15 minutes, and will not only check for coronavirus, but also check for antibodies to see if individuals have fully recovered from the virus.
“If you are in contact or you have exposure and you’re wearing the proper gear that you’re given to wear you could still have an exposure,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Tuesday. “Until you’re symptomatic, we’re not gonna know. So we have to wait til you’re symptomatic, then we test you right away. Everything is centralized, it goes through our medical administration office, we schedule the appointment the next day, and we send you over to get tested.”
The PBA also requested proper training on the wearing and disposing of personal protection equipment (PPE), urged the department to update its COVID-19 protocols, and asked it to ensure the department has enough PPE. McDermott acknowledged that Nassau officials have mentioned there is a supply for first responders, but he warned that he isn’t sure if the current supply will last through the pandemic.
“From what I’m being told by [Ryder] right now we are fine,” said McDermott. “Once police officers’ clothes get infected, they’re wearing a gown, they’re wearing a mask that’s got to come off and get thrown out and then they got to put clean stuff on. So we might have big piles of this stuff now, but it will get smaller and smaller.”
The PBA is hoping to see protocols enacted to limit potential contact with people and mitigate exposure to prisoners who may have coronavirus. And the union seeks protocols for officers to follow when it comes to changing and cleaning uniforms when an officer makes contact with an infected individual.
“What we look for going forward is that the police department proactively looks to eliminate all risk to our officers because it is very important that our officers don’t get contaminated,” explained McDermott.
Ryder said the department is taking extra precautions.
“We spray our cars,” the commissioner said. “We do 50 to 60 cars a day. We have all the protective gear in the car, we put wipes in the car, sanitizer in the car, and we go to great lengths to make sure that our members are protected. We realize that there’s a concern out there, that they don’t wanna bring it home to their loved ones.”