COVID-19 Guidance for Law Enforcement: A Message from NTOA TEMS Section Chair
Message from TEMS Section Chair – Dr. Jason R. Pickett
Thank you to those who have reached out with kind words after my appointment as TEMS Section Chair for the NTOA. It’s ironic that this comes at the start of a global pandemic. I want to share with you some guidance, since I have been receiving a lot of questions from our officers on things like PPE, training or performing medical care. COVID-19 can be dangerous for certain populations like the elderly or people with serious chronic medical conditions. But the vast majority who get it will have mild symptoms only.
Reduce your risk COVID-19 is spread by droplets such as those generated when coughing or sneezing. When those land on a surface and you touch that surface and then your face, you can get it. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk:
Stay 6 feet away from people, when possible.
Avoid shaking hands.
Stop touching your face.
Clean your hands or use hand sanitizer often.
Avoid groups of people.
Get good sleep, food and exercise.
What kills COVID-19? Disinfectants with 60% alcohol are needed. That includes most of the alcohol hand sanitizers you come in contact with. This does not include “dime store” hand sanitizers that are 10% alcohol, 90% glitter, and smell like strawberries.
Other things that work:
Sanitizing wipes and sprays like Lysol or Clorox
Dilute bleach (90% water and 10% of a household bleach solution)
Soap and water
Ultraviolet light (sunlight)
What doesn’t work:
Homeopathic all-natural remedy products, unless that remedy includes bleach or 60% alcohol.
Vodka, inside or outside.
Homemade hand sanitizers, unless they contain 60% alcohol.
Please don’t sanitize your hands or skin with bleach. That’s a terrible idea for your skin.
Guidelines for training As law enforcement officers, maintaining critical skills is paramount as poor marksmanship, poor decision-making or poor fitness may have catastrophic results for you, your fellow officers, your department, or the public. Therefore, you should continue training at every opportunity and should not let COVID-19 shut down your training program.
The risk of transmission is higher in close confines. If classroom training or briefing is needed, space officers 6 feet apart, have hand sanitizer available, and disinfect surfaces.
If possible, do distance learning via video or teleconference.
Range training: Go shoot. Training on an open range conveys no risk of transmission. Enclosed ranges that have ventilation that helps carry away infectious droplets are also good. There is also no risk of COVID-19 presented by shooting on an indoor range by yourself.
Exercise: If you’re going to lift, wipe down equipment with a disinfectant before and after training. Don’t crowd a bunch of people into a gym. Maintain at least a 6-foot distance.
Combatives: This is not a great idea. There are lots of judo, jiu-jitsu and boxing drills you can do on your own, though.
Driver training: There is a risk of transmission if there is another person in the car with you.
K9 officers: Training with your dog is fine.
Interacting with the public There is no identifiable risk posed by brief casual contact with the public. There is no risk of passing within 6 feet of someone on the street. If you have to talk to someone, maintaining at least a 6-foot distance will help prevent transmission if they cough in your direction.
Take whatever action is tactically appropriate and prudent and do not let fear of the virus prevent you from doing what you need to do to keep yourself and the public safe. If you have to go hands-on with someone, do what you need to do. Then wash or sanitize your hands before you touch your face. If someone’s secretions land on your uniform, change uniforms and wash your uniform in hot water. Duty gear can be wiped down with disinfectant. Same goes for the inside of your car.
Medical procedures Certain medical procedures do convey risk of transmission due to generation of droplets. CPR, ventilating a patient, or providing nebulized medications may generate droplets. For any of these procedures, optimal PPE includes N95 mask, eye pro, gloves and a gown. If you are present for a call where EMS is performing these procedures, step outside if possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will my gas mask protect me against COVID? Yes, a CBRN filter also has P100 filtering capability and is a higher standard than the N95. I’m not recommending wearing a gas mask all the time, this is just a frequently asked question.
Should I stay inside? Generally, you should try to avoid groups of people. But there is no COVID-19 risk of going out for a run or a bike ride or walking your dog or heading to the park. Same thing for your kids, get them out to play.
If I transport a prisoner with COVID-19 in my car, am I at risk? Cars are close quarters. Put a (medical) mask on prisoners to help keep them from generating droplets. A barrier such as the shield between the back seat and front seat will help protect you from droplets. Make sure the HVAC isn’t recycling the air in the car.
Will I give COVID-19 to my dog? We don’t think so. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/animals.html
What if I contract COVID-19? When can I return to work?
You have no fever for 72 hours (without using acetaminophen)
AND your respiratory symptoms like cough have “improved” (not totally gone)
AND it has been at least 7 days since symptoms first appeared
CDC guidance here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/healthcare-facilities/hcp-return-work.html
I think I may have had an exposure. Am I at risk? Take a look at this chart from Texas DSHS to help guide you in determining if you have a significant risk of transmission.
Interim Exposure Risk Categories for Travelers, Flight Crews, and Contacts in Community or Household Settings for COVID‑19
I entered a house with COVID-19 positive residents. Do I have to burn all my stuff? No, if you were briefly in a room with someone with COVID-19, there’s not an identifiable risk unless they coughed on you or you performed medical procedures, etc.
I think I was exposed to COVID-19 but I don’t have any symptoms. Can I get a test? No. The CDC and HHS recommend against testing people without symptoms at this time. Monitor your temperature. Save the tests for people who are sick. If you acquire symptoms (fever or cough or shortness of breath), getting a test might be a good idea since you are a public safety worker and there is risk of you carrying the virus to vulnerable populations.
I’m sick at home. How do I treat it? Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cold medicine, drink water, get sleep, and stay away from other people.
What if I need to see a doctor Go for the telemedicine option first if your symptoms don’t include difficulty breathing or confusion. This means doing a doctor visit by video or phone. Your doctor’s office may have this option if you call them. Your insurance company may also. If not, there are a few services that provide this such as Teladoc, MDLive, HeyDoc, Televero Health, or MyIdealDoctor. This may help keep you away from the hospital and clinics where you might expose others.
How should our facility be disinfected if someone is sick? Guidelines from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/disinfecting-building-facility.html
I hope you all weather this storm well with your loved ones and your fellow officers. Thank you for what you do to keep people safe. Take care of yourselves and others, be strong, carry a tourniquet, and wash your hands frequently.
Jason R. Pickett, MD, FACEP FAEMS TEMS Section Chair National Tactical Officers Association firstname.lastname@example.org