Police pandemic preparedness: 'Get ready and go back on the front line'

All sworn members of the Edmonton Police Service from detective on down have been told to be ready to return to the front lines because of the coronavirus. 

It’s a possibility if large numbers of officers are quarantined or test positive for the virus. 

The head of the Edmonton Police Association said so far there have been no cases among EPS members. 

Sgt. Michael Elliott admitted some members are nervous while others are calling his office looking for more information. 

“As first responders, we need to be there physically and mentally prepared to help the citizens,” Elliott told CBC News. “We’ve got to take care of our own families and we’ve got to take care of the citizens. So education goes both ways and we’ve got to be that calming feature for the public.”

‘Make sure your kit is ready’

Officers used to working in plainclothes have been told to pull out their uniforms. 

“All members are being notified to make sure your kit is ready, and if called upon your primary responsibility is on the front line and taking care of the citizens, and that’s what you have to do,” Elliott said. “So if I’m a member in robbery and in the worst-case scenario I’m required, then he or she will go get their uniform and kit and get ready and go back on the front line.”  

EPS spokesperson Scott Pattison confirmed some members are in self-isolation, but there have been no positive tests. 

Meanwhile, members who are used to dealing with potentially high-risk health situations continue to take precautions, including the use of gloves and hand sanitizer. It’s unclear if masks will be provided in the future. 

Elliott said responding officers try to determine if a person is showing symptoms before they get too close. If so, they keep their distance whenever possible, though officers can’t stay two metres away if they have to handcuff someone. 

Sgt. Mike Elliott is president of the Edmonton Police Association. (CBC)

“We’re still going to be business as usual because we still have to protect the public,” Elliott said. “We still have to uphold the bylaws and the criminal code, so if we have to go hands on with somebody, we will go hands on.”

Elliott said he’s been very pleased with the level of communication within the service during the pandemic. 

RCMP detachments across the province have also ramped up cleaning procedures for work spaces, shared spaces and cells. 

“The public may see RCMP officers wearing more personal protective equipment (gloves, mask, eye protection) if they are dealing with people who have reported themselves ill,” spokesperson Fraser Logan wrote in an email to CBC News. “Each detachment is making the individual decisions as to what front counter services they are able to provide.”

More from the front line

Paramedics across the province are also taking extra precautions to maintain their health and safety. 

“The EMS system is currently managing events province-wide without any gaps or decreased levels of service,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson told CBC News. “Albertans are encouraged to call 911 if they believe they need an ambulance, just as they normally would.”

Williamson said contingencies are in place to make sure EMS will continue to provide service even if demands increase. 

Since Feb. 1, paramedics province-wide have completed more than 700 in-home testing swabs at the request of the medical officer of health. 

Edmonton Fire Rescue plans to release details of its COVID-19 protocol on Wednesday.

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