Local CT Police, Fire Make Protective Masks Mandatory
New Haven Register, April 9, 2020
By Bill Cummings
As the coronavirus claims more lives, police departments across Connecticut are ordering officers to wear protective masks and other equipment when interacting with the public. “They are expected to wear it,” Milford Police Chief Keith Mello said, referring to masks and other protective gear.
Mello, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said other members of the association said they too had ordered officers to wear masks. “We do that for their own safety and the safety of their co-workers and their families,” he said. For now, departments are using — and in some cases reusing — masks, gloves and other equipment they have on hand while wondering where future supplies will come from if the pandemic continues for weeks or months.
Tom Wuennemann, Stamford’s acting police chief, said supplies are holding up but it’s not clear how long they will last. That will likely depend on how long the virus remains, he noted. “So far it seems to be OK but every day the situation changes,” he said. “Two weeks ago, they were saying not to wear masks.” After saying for weeks that masks were not necessary in most situations, federal health officials changed their tune in recent days as the death toll increased in the U.S. — it was more than 14,000 as of Wednesday — and the number of those infected across the country moves quickly toward the 500,000 mark.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working off new data that indicated asymptomatic people can transmit the virus through close proximity, now recommends people wear masks when in contact with others. A shortage of personal protective equipment for nurses, doctors and health care workers has been well documented as states scramble to find basic supplies such as masks and gloves, as well as much needed ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
“We have a fair supply, but hospitals and nursing homes need it much more than we do,” Wuennemann said. “The paramedics are doing a tremendous amount of transports.” In Connecticut the death roll is nearly 300 and the number of those infected is almost at the 8,000 mark. Most chiefs said they are using supplies their department, town or city had already obtained. Purchasing officials are searching for more supplies and placing orders, they said.
Recommendation to order back to top
The Milford order began as a recommendation to wear a mask during direct contact — when an officer had to touch a person or arrest them, Mello explained. But late last week the order was increased to all contact. “We issued masks two weeks ago and encouraged them to wear one when interacting and required it when making contact or when arresting,” Mello explained. “Last Friday, we required it for all contact,” he added.“We want to set the example for the public that there is a benefit to covering your face.”
Reusing masks Wuennemann said the more protective N95 masks are being used in Stamford for arrests and physical contact and surgical masks are being worn for routine interactions and at headquarters. “If directing traffic they don’t have to wear a mask,” the chief added. “They are also wearing gloves, eye protection and gowns when needed.” Wuennemann noted the city’s firemen are also wearing protective gear and have changed their protocols to adapt to the pandemic. “They don’t go to as many medical calls as they used to,” he said. “If it’s a COVID transport, you have two to three ambulance people exposed. Why do you need four firemen?” In Norwalk, there is enough protective equipment at the moment for its fire and police departments.
“At the moment, police and fire have adequate supply of personal protection equipment and are not reusing masks,” said Josh Morgan, a Norwalk city spokesman. Scott Appleby, Bridgeport’s emergency management director, said Police Chief Armando Perez has ordered the city’s police officers to wear masks and other protective equipment. “There is an hourly reoccurring message being sent out reminding officers that they are to wear gloves and masks at all times,” he added. Some departments are ordering officers to reuse masks as much as possible in an effort to keep from running out. “We are being careful to reuse,” Mello said. “We understand there may be a shortage. We want to make sure health workers have them.”