Taunton Police Press ‘Reset’ After 16 Test Positive for COVID-19
First responders have been vulnerable to the coronavirus, and Massachusetts police departments have seen their share of COVID-19. For instance, 67 Boston police officers tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks with 53 still out.
In Bristol County, the Taunton Police Department was hit early, with 16 officers testing positive since March and seven quarantined – a number that comprised about 20 percent of the 118-member force.
However, several officers have been cleared to return to work, nobody was hospitalized, and there have been no new cases in a couple of weeks, according to Lt. Eric Nichols, public information officer for the Taunton Police.
"We've done a reset," said Nichols, who described how the department changed its policies and protocols to deal with the pandemic. Officers now wear personal protective equipment, the front door to the police station is locked, and new ways of serving the public have been devised.
In one effort, the department placed a printer outside the locked doors so officers can provide essential paperwork to members of the public standing in the station vestibule. "We've changed the way we do business," Nichols said. "there's far less face-to-face interaction."
Nichols said that even with 23 officers off the schedule, the department had enough staff to fill shifts. "It wasn't that different from a schedule in July when so many people are on vacation," he said.
He had words of praise for Taunton Police Chief Edward J. Walsh, saying the chief was "very proactive from the beginning of the pandemic." Also, every member of the force has since been tested for COVID-19.
Nichols said it is believed that a single officer introduced coronavirus into the department from an outside source and that he was not exposed to the virus in the course of duty.
"Another one of our officers remarked that we've never had an invisible opponent," said Nichols. "And we've dealt with a lot of things." He added that some who tested positive were showing no symptoms at all, and that "one guy had just run six miles."
At last count, the entire city of Taunton had 247 positive cases, a rate of 431 per 100,000 population. That puts the city at the high end of Bristol County. In contrast, New Bedford on Tuesday had 165 cases, a rate of 165 per 100,000. Fall River had 150, a rate of 167 per 100,000.
In New Bedford, eight first responders have tested positive – six police officers and two firefighters – according to the office of Mayor Jon Mitchell.