Sean Z. Barnette, NRP, AAS
Addressing The COVID 19 Pandemic
I have no doubt that all of us have heard WAY more than we would like to about the COVID 19 Pandemic. However, since so many officers have become infected, and sadly a couple of law enforcement officers have died because of COVID 19, I would feel remiss if I didn’t address this topic as the SCT medical representative. In this medical Monday we will attempt to provide some preventative measures, some decontamination procedures, and address some misinformation that may be floating around. I have two disclaimers before we get started. This is not intended to replace your specific department’s plans or protocols. Information on how to best combat COVID-19 is literally changing by the hour. (While working at the hospital on 04/03/2020 we had two policy changes within one hour.)
Allow me to begin by discussing preventative measures. In a previous Medical Monday post talking about medical gloves (Pre COVID-19 days) I stressed the importance of proper hand washing. This is not a new concept. In 1846 a physician working in a labor and delivery ward in Vienna began an investigation as to why so many women were developing fevers and dying in the hospital as opposed to women that opted to have home births. He discovered that doctors at the hospital were performing autopsies and then going directly to the labor and delivery floor to assist with the delivery of the newborn. Women who delivered their newborns at home with the assistance of midwives on the other hand did not receive as much of an exposure to disease because the midwives were not performing autopsies. Dr. Semmelweis implemented a new regulation that the physicians at the hospital begin washing their hands between procedures. Doctors in 1846 and modern-day law enforcement have a lot in common because at the time, the physicians thought that this change was essentially a bunch of bullshit (the way LE reacts to change in general). Long story short, eventually over time it was found that handwashing is the number one way to reduce catching and spreading disease. This statement is true to this day. With that being said, YOU HAVE TO WASH YOUR HANDS CORRECTLY! This means wash them with soap and with water. Let me further break this down:
Step 1. Get your hands wet.
Step 2. Put soap on your hands
Step 3. Rub the soap over the entirety of the hands to include the fingernail areas and at least three inches above your wrists
Step 4. SCRUB for TWENTY (20) seconds
Step 5. Rinse off the soap under running water
Step 6. Dry your hands
You need to wash your hands before and after eating, after coughing or sneezing, after handling garbage, after you use the bathroom, after handling a suspect, and any other time that you even remotely think that you may need to wash your hands. Many of you may have the mindset that you will just use the hand sanitizer in your patrol vehicle. That is fine as a temporary measure (if you can even find some), but you still need to wash your hands as soon as you are able to locate running water and soap. Additionally, make sure that the hand sanitizer that you are using is at least 60% alcohol.
The next preventative measure is…DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE WITH YOUR HANDS! Germs get onto your hands and as soon as you touch your face those germs or the virus is much closer to your airway where it can grow and cause infection.
WIPE EVERYTHING DOWN WITH A DISINFECTANT WIPE! If you do not have access to disinfectant wipes, you can make your own cleaning solution by placing 4 teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water, or 1/3 cup of bleach in a gallon of water. When you go on duty, ensure that you spray and wipe down all surfaces. Wipe down the steering wheel, seatbelt and buckle, headrest, and any other surfaces that you come into contact with. As far as radios go, Motorola released guidance advising to apply rubbing alcohol with at least a 70% concentration to a cloth, and then use the cloth to clean the radio. Do not forget about the radio and mic in your patrol car as well. Make sure that you wipe down your duty gear.
In our basic law enforcement training academy, we were taught that DISTANCE IS OUR FRIEND. It seems as if that advice is more than applicable in this day and age. I have seen many different policies that different departments have implemented to protect their officers. Regardless of your specific department has implemented, try to stay SIX feet away from people on or off duty. This obviously doesn’t apply when you are at your home although some healthcare professionals have gone to some extraordinary lengths separating themselves from their family through this crisis.
Moving on to masks…This is where information becomes tricky. According to the National Institute of Safety and Health, the N95 mask that you have been hearing so much about in the news is the minimum standard for contact with known COVID-19 patients. It is named N95 because it filters out 95% of particles in the air that are 0.3 microns in size. There are a couple of issues. I strongly suspect that hardly any agencies are requiring an N95 fit test upon hiring of new officers. To wear the N95 respirator, it needs to be fit tested to ensure that the mask will work correctly. As I am also sure that you have seen in the news, N95 masks are difficult to come by.
The CDC is now recommending that people wear a cloth mask when out in public. The theory is that the cloth mask will reduce the chance of you passing COVID-19 to others in public. It is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and only exhibit minor symptoms, or even no symptoms at all. The issue that I have with the cloth mask is that there has not been nearly enough research done to see exactly how many particles that these masks will filter out. There are varying types of fabric. Some cloth masks have slots made for coffee filters, or other home-made options. The surgical masks and or cloth masks are ok for filtering out the large airborne particles, or good for blocking the fingers touching a large area of the face. Again, information is changing on a continual basis. When it comes to wearing masks, follow your department’s guidelines.
Decontamination is absolutely essential when you get off shift and go home. I recommend that you think of all of the areas outside of your home as the hot zone (direct threat). Think of your garage or if you don’t have a garage, your entry way in your home as the warm zone (indirect threat). The interior of your home is the cold zone.
The first step to decontamination is that when you get off duty, you again wipe down all of your duty belt equipment. Change into civilian clothes (I have been changing into sweats and a t-shirt). If you have a washing machine and dryer at your department, I highly suggest washing it at work. If not, place your uniform into a plastic bag. Place your uniform into the trunk of your personal vehicle, or if you have a take home car, place it in the trunk as well. When you arrive home, place your uniform as well as your clothes that you wore home into the washing machine and start it. Go directly to your bathroom and shower. I suggest leaving your footwear in your garage or entry way. Make sure to wash your boots (especially the soles with hot soap and water). The last thing that you want to do is risk bringing any type of sickness into your home or to your family. All of these steps are merely a suggestion. If you have a more efficient option, I would love to hear about it in the comments.
The last topic I will address in relation to COVID-19 is mental health. Mental health could be discussed in multiple Medical Mondays, but for now make sure that you are taking care of yourself. While off duty, try to focus on something that is not law enforcement related. Read a new book. Watch a new show on Netflix. Play a board game with your family. Whatever you do, don’t go home and become vapor locked on the news. By giving yourself a break, you will be more focused and present while you are on duty. Try to exercise patience, understanding, and kindness not only to the public that we serve, but also to your colleagues and family.
This may not have been the most earth-shattering post, but if it helps even a single officer, the time to put it together is well worth it. I promise a much sexier Medical Monday post in the near future. Please watch out for each other. Please take care of yourselves and your families. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out, or put them in the comments section below. Stay safe, take care of each other, and WASH YOUR HANDS!