CHICAGO (CBS) — Six Chicago police officers and five members of the Chicago Fire Department have tested positive for the novel coronavirus so far, and city officials said if any first responder has someone in their household who has contracted the virus, the whole family is being urged to stay home.
Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck said of the six officers who have contracted COVID-19, two are now in the hospital. Beck said the sick officers include a couple detectives, a couple patrol officers, and a community relations officer. Two of the six work at the same police facility.
“All of them are in great spirits, and tremendous people. They’re very, very brave. They want to get through this and back to work, every one of them,” Beck said Tuesday afternoon at Chicago Public Safety Headquarters.
Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II said the five sick members of the department — ranging from a firefighter and a paramedic to an assistant paramedic chief — all are doing well and are at home.
Meantime, first responders who might be healthy themselves, but who live in a household where someone else has tested positive for COVID-19, are being told not to come to work, and to self-isolate at home, according to Beck.
Beck and Ford said the city is providing all first responders with protective gloves and masks. While some officers have complained about a shortage of personal protective equipment kits (PPEs), officials said the city is working to inform police officers and firefighters on exactly when they need to use PPEs.
“We are absolutely prioritizing healthcare workers and first responders, as we’re making sure they are getting the personal protective equipment that they need, the appropriate information, the right training,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
The Chicago Police Department said it has distributed more than 12,000 PPE kits to the districts over the past week, along with more than 15,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
Ford said the Fire Department also has several ambulances dedicated to responding to possible COVID-19 cases, and all CFD ambulances are equipped with personal protective equipment.
The commissioner said the Fire Department also is providing training to all personnel on how to respond to emergency calls when there is a chance that disease transmission is possible.
“We not only protect ourselves when we use our equipment properly, but we protect our families and the public as well,” he said.
While all Illinois schools have been closed for the next couple weeks, and many businesses also are closed, Arwady said the city cannot close police stations or firehouses, even in the face of the spread of the coronavirus.
“We should not close either of those. These are absolutely essential services, in the way that we cannot close hospitals,” Arwady said. “We cannot close fire stations, we cannot close police stations.”
Police stations and firehouses are cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis, particularly those where there has been a confirmed case of coronavirus.
“Special attention is being paid to common areas; including desks, bathrooms, lockups, breakrooms, and processing areas, and other high-traffic areas,” Beck said of the efforts to clean police stations.
Beck said police officers also are taking extra steps to practice “social distancing” to keep a safe distance from others at police stations while still being able to provide service to the public. The superintendent said the department also has posted signs in every district, asking people with non-emergency needs to call 311 instead of coming into stations.
As for the rest of the city, Beck said he believes Chicagoans have “reacted splendidly” to the mandate to stay home during the pandemic.
“The city of Chicago and its people have been absolutely top notch in this,” Beck said.
The superintendent noted that police have issued no citations and mad no arrests so far for violating coronavirus-related health orders.
“We’ve also seen significant evidence that Chicago is staying home,” Beck said
He noted CPD calls for service, including radio calls and 911 calls, are down 30% this month. Beck said the department also has seen a significant drop in traffic stops and pedestrian stops in recent weeks.
“All of this indicates to me that people are doing what we asked; that they are staying home, that they are by and large creating good social distance, that our police officers are only focusing on things that have a direct impact on public safety, and making sure that we all get through this together,” he said.
Beck said CPD officers “completely understand the shift in responsibility” during the virus outbreak, noting he’s told officers he doesn’t want them issuing citations for things that aren’t public safety-related. He’s told officers, for certain misdemeanor crimes, they shouldn’t make arrests don’t make arrests, just issue citations.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit other departments as well. Blue Island closed its police station after an officer tested positive, which angered state and local lawmakers. Aurora announced its force was also dealing with a COVID-19 case.