The viral infection that is paralyzing everything from heavy industry to the service sector is also taking its toll on public safety, weakening police and fire departments around the United States and the world.
Police departments in Chicago, Detroit and New York City have reported hundreds of their officers are in quarantine after possible or confirmed exposure to coronavirus, with some of them already falling ill.
Public safety departments around the country are already understaffed and underfunded, struggling to find and retain qualified officers. Thinning ranks due to coronavirus make it that much harder for departments to keep communities safe.
That’s no different in southwest Mississippi, but so far local departments have dodged the viral freight train that’s decimated the ranks of other departments around the country.
Area departments haven’t reported any confirmed coronavirus infections among their ranks, and department leaders are working hard to keep it that way.
“As of right now, we’ve been blessed,” McComb Police Chief Damian Gatlin said.
The police department has had several employees whose family members fell ill but not from coronavirus — rather allergies and other irritations, Gatlin said.
Officers are issued gloves and masks among other personal protective equipment that they are wearing as they work their shifts.
“We have also been giving them extra cleaning supplies,” Gatlin said.
Gatlin added that officers are disinfecting everything inside their vehicles and all their equipment.
The department is following stringent personal distancing guidelines handed down at the local, state and national levels earlier this month.
“We’re working on some things to further assist our employees in doing their jobs while keeping social distance,” Gatlin said.
He said he is looking into acquiring laptops for use by patrol officers so they’re able to write incident reports immediately while taking information from reporting parties, which will reduce contact between employees of the department.
Gatlin said the police station is also being deep-cleaned by a professional service.
“Keep our people healthy,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re keeping our people safe and we’re keeping them healthy.”
The McComb Fire Department is similarly affected by coronavirus, having implemented a number of protective measures but not yet realizing a severe impact.
Fire Chief Gary McKenzie organized the four separate fire stations within city limits to run independently, as if the city had four distinct fire departments, he explained at a board meeting earlier this month.
The decision to insulate each department was made to ensure exposure between fire crews does not occur, he said. The department is still able to provide full service to the city and surrounding areas of the county as usual.
That move appears to have been a prudent one, considering none of the city firefighters have fallen ill or been ordered into quarantine due to exposure.
“Nobody is sick here,” Deputy Fire Chief Jason Howell said. “We’re in good shape right now.
Public safety departments in McComb are doing well despite the circumstances, and apparently so is the Pike County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff James Brumfield said none of the patrol deputies, jail or command staff have fallen ill and neither have any inmates, despite the high-risk nature of working in law enforcement and constant contact with members of the public.
“Praise God, we’ve been all right,” Brumfield said. “In the jail, Captain (Glenn) Green is doing a jam-up job.”
Employees are issued personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer and are checked for their temperature each shift. Shift meetings between deputies are moved outside to allow for social distancing or are held over the phone.
Deputies are sanitizing their vehicles after making an arrest or transporting anybody anywhere, and members of the public and law enforcement officers of other departments are screened upon intake at the jail, Brumfield said.
The sheriff’s office received a much-needed payload of personal protective equipment from MEMA, and stores and community members have been donating cleaning supplies as well, Brumfield said.
Wednesday a young girl brought the staff pizza and cookies. The office’s Facebook page highlights other gifts received in recent days.
Although the office is in good shape for now, Brumfield said a widespread backlog of orders for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies is affecting departments across the state and the country.
Brumfield said deputies are working to enforce the countywide curfew passed by supervisors last week, breaking up crowds of more than 10 people and keeping roads clear for essential services. But more than anything, he hopes people stay safe and inside.
“Please — if you’re not going to work, seeking medical attention, not buying groceries, please stay home.”