As the death toll and cases rise in Georgia, the coronavirus outbreak has forced Atlanta’s police force to rethink how they function and interact with the public. That includes cleaning workspaces, having nonessential staff work from home, and forgoing vacation time.
“The way I see it, this is going to be a marathon,” Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields said in an interview with Channel 2 Action News earlier this week. “It’s not going to resolve itself in two weeks.”
Postponing vacation is one of several measures the department is taking amid the coronavirus outbreak. Others include suspending outside travel and asking EMS personnel to carefully evaluate 911 calls.
It is not yet known how the recent changes will affect other areas of the department, but police officials hope the steps taken so far will stave off the spread of the coronavirus. By Thursday, state health officials reported there have been 10 deaths caused by the virus and 287 cases confirmed.
On Monday, the Atlanta Police Department rolled out a detailed plan should the virus disrupt the department’s day-to-day operations even more than it already has.
The plan assumes some personnel will either be sick or required to quarantine, Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said. Should that happen, Atlanta police will redirect other personnel to ensure they can continue to respond to 911 calls. “Ensuring we have the ability to respond to crises and emergency calls for service will be our priority,” Campos said in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“At present, there has been no impact on our ability to respond to calls for service and no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in our department,” he said.
The department’s Contingency Operations Division has been in close conversations with the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Mayor’s Pandemic Coordination team, and public health officials, Campos said.
Already, Atlanta police have asked emergency medical services personnel to carefully evaluate medical calls to determine if officers are needed to assist. “If it is a situation that does not require a police officer, we will not respond,” Campos said.
The department has also been rescheduling and postponing its participation in “certain public gatherings that are non-essential,” he added.
The department has suspended outside travel and training for the entire department as a precautionary measure to reduce the spread of the virus. All sworn personnel will continue to report to work, but “non-essential” civilian personnel will be teleworking, at least through the end of March. The department is also ensuring workplaces and patrol cars are properly cleaned.
“Our main focus has been on making sure our personnel remain healthy so that we may continue to serve the public with no disruptions,” Campos said. “We are taking several steps to assist in containing the spread of the virus among officers and support staff.”
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