Police not hit hard by COVID-19, Outlaw says

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said it was determined early on in the coronavirus outbreak to stagger shifts, particularly for detectives and officers who work in specialized units and at police headquarters.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Wednesday that less than half of one percent of officers are off the street due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Outlaw, who revealed that she has tested negative for the virus, said her department is nowhere near the point where they would have to call on outside help to maintain order in Philadelphia.

“It’s uplifting for us, in that sense,” she said in a virtual press conference on Wednesday from police headquarters.

Reporters have been pressing officials in recent days for numbers on how many police officers and firefighters have contracted COVID-19.

So far, city leaders have refused to release that information, and, following a meeting with high-level officials Tuesday night, they have reinforced that stance, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.

“When it comes to private, confidential health information of our employees, there’s going to be a bright line, and I’m not going to cross it,” he said.

Abernathy said officers and other first responders who test positive for the virus are pulled off the job, and people they have been in contact with are notified.

Early on in the outbreak, police leaders recognized the virus was spreading in communal spaces, so Outlaw said it was determined to stagger shifts, particularly for detectives and officers who work in specialized units and at headquarters.

She said protocols are changing rapidly, and sometimes daily, based on conditions and supplies.

“This is tough for everybody,” Outlaw said. “Everything that we’re doing now is completely counterintuitive for what we’re trained to do. We’re trained for close-quarter contact.”

“Frustrations can be high,” she added. “The tension is high. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

City health officials do believe the outbreak is stabilizing in Philadelphia, and the growth in new cases is beginning to slow, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

“At the moment, things are looking a little bit better,” he said.

Officials announced 505 new cases Wednesday, a slight decrease from the daily numbers reported on Monday and Tuesday. So far, 4,777 people in Philadelphia have been infected with COVID-19.

An additional 13 coronavirus-related deaths were reported, bringing the city’s death toll to 78, of which 32 were nursing home residents, Farley said.

He urged people to continue following the city’s stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines.

“The overall good news is that the growth is slowing, but it’s important to say that we can’t assume that that slower growth will continue,” Farley said.

In other COVID-19-related news, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city has reached an agreement on a one-year contract extension with the leaders of AFSCME District Council 47, a union which represents mostly white-collar municipal workers.

Members will receive 2 percent pay raises and a one-time bonus ranging between $450 and $700, according to Kenney.

Last week, the city reached a similar accord with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Officials are still working on extensions with two other unions that represent municipal employees, Kenney said.

All of the city’s labor contracts were set to expire in June, and the Kenney administration has been looking to avoid negotiating during the pandemic.

The School District of Philadelphia’s student meal sites, which normally operate on Mondays and Thursdays, will be closed Monday due to Good Friday, which will delay the meal-packing schedule.

Kenney’s office said the sites will be open Tuesday. The city’s 40 food distribution sites will be operating on Monday as scheduled.

Trash will not be picked up on Good Friday. Those who live in areas with Friday pick-up are advised to put their trash out Friday after 5 p.m. for Saturday collection.

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