Atlanta Police Department officers distribute masks to the homeless at Hurt Park downtown on Friday, April 24, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Opinion: Public-private work protects police in face of pandemic

Some months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlanta Police Department has an enviable record in maintaining public safety in the city, as well as the health of its 1,850 sworn officers.

Crime is down roughly 20% since the pandemic forced citizens to isolate at home, compared to a 9% year-to-date uptick in the first nine weeks of the year. Despite the crisis initially requiring longer hours and canceled leaves, just 13 officers have been diagnosed with the virus, eight of whom have already returned to duty. The remaining five are in home isolation and expected to return to full health.

Throughout this emergency, APD adjusted deployments to meet public safety needs and ensure that officers could, like the rest of us, also meet responsibilities as parents and caregivers.

The speed with which APD adopted pandemic-inspired protocols proved to be effective, enabling officers to do their jobs and shielding them from the risk of contagion, infection, ill health or death.

The Atlanta Police Foundation was instrumental in ensuring APD procured adequate supplies and established effective pandemic protection processes: funding more than 10,000 masks, 15,000 pairs of gloves, 1,200 face shields, 5,000 officer meals, and weekly sanitizing of police offices, precincts, and vehicles.

Supplies and services were procured quickly thanks to APF’s unique public-private partnership with the business community, which affords access to strategic talent, state-of-the-art technology and best-in-class know-how that APF in-turn makes available to APD for use in its daily operations.

With COVID-19, this tripartite partnership — APF, the business community and APD – provided a real-time response that ultimately saved lives and enabled APD to continue to fulfill its mission amid a once-in-a century pandemic. Meanwhile, police departments across the country have contended with lesser supply safety nets and spikes in crimes while continuing law enforcement’s universal mission: protect and serve 24/7.

While models suggest the virus may have plateaued in Georgia, it remains a scourge which epidemiologists say we will face for many months to come. According to Sharecare’s “Flatten the Curve” survey of more than 114,000 Americans in April, 32% of respondents in Georgia didn’t know if they had been exposed to the virus. Absent citizens’ continued compliance with safeguards — social distancing, masks, stepped-up handwashing, sanitizing workspaces — the virus could see a resurgence, endangering the public and threatening economic recovery.

As Atlanta begins to reopen, we must be vigilant to ensure the safety of first responders. Now is the time for organizations to adopt a strategic, phased approach to build a resilient workforce, ready to face adversity and change while protecting the overall well-being of the communities we serve.

To that end, APF and Sharecare joined forces to create a customized program for the Atlanta Police Department that will give sworn officers direct, immediate access to physicians and real-time testing for COVID-19.

Sharecare’s Virtual Care program enables APD officers to use a mobile phone, tablet or computer to consult a medical coordinator to determine whether they have symptoms indicating a likelihood of COVID-19, and connect them to a board-certified emergency physician, free of charge to the officer.

The physician can arrange for same-day COVID-19 tests for officers, as well as in-person appointments if further diagnosis or treatment is needed. Following a virtual appointment, officers can track their symptoms and more in the Sharecare app, empowering them to get well and back to duty.

Sharecare is a pioneer in using digital technology to improve health and well-being. This telehealth solution for APD provides our first-line law enforcement officers with the protections needed to do their jobs, and the confidence that they are taking every precaution to protect themselves, their families, their colleagues, and all of us.

These weeks of physical distancing have served as a reminder that we are, indeed, better together – especially when aligned toward a common goal as one community, and as Mayor Bottoms says, “One Atlanta.”

Jeff Arnold is Chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based Sharecare, a digital health and wellness company. Dave Wilkinson is President and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

X