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COVID-19 cases among Vancouver police raise question of mandatory PPE for officers

Last Updated Aug 8, 2020 at 9:50 pm PDT

Summary

Masks or other PPE are not mandatory for police officers but are recommended when physical distance can't be maintained

Given the risk of large gatherings, some think police officers sent to break them up would be safer with PPE

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The question of mandatory PPE for the province’s police officers is being raised again after three officers contracted COVID-19 when breaking up a party, sending two entire patrol teams into isolation.

Dr. Anna Wolak is one of dozens of B.C. Physicians petitioning the provincial government for mandatory masks in a number of public spaces. She suggests police are some of the most vulnerable to contracting the virus without proper PPE.

“The family nurses, health care workers as much as we are on the frontline, our officers are on the frontline too,” she says.

“There’s no guarantee they’ll be entering a place where people are appropriately distancing, so I believe they should be wearing masks for their own protection. We are trying to get through it together. We see it’s on an upward curve, it’s scary.  We are on the frontlines we are scared we are back where we were in March. We just want masks mandatory to help get everyone through it.”

Masks or other PPE are not mandatory for police officers but are recommended when physical distance can’t be maintained.

CityNews reached out to the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department to see if there are any plans to change their policies regarding PPE, but has not yet received a response.

It’s not known if the police officers who tested positive for the coronavirus were wearing masks or not.

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Former VPD Superintendent Kash Heed thinks equipping officers with PPE would be a good idea.

“They have limited equipment available to them. They have masks available to them that they can utilize but they don’t have the full PPE yet that many of the other first responders such as firefighters and ambulance attendants do have,” he says.

“I think we’ve got to go beyond that, I think some of the people that are out there dealing with the public day in and day out need to take extra precautions. There’s so much mixed information going out on masks. We don’t know if masks are used to prevent you from contracting the virus or the mask is meant to assist others.”

But he notes there would be logistical challenges.

“Many situations are dynamic where they’ve got that immediate response and they have to react to it in that instant. At times they do have some prior warning that they may be coming across possible exposure to people that are in large gatherings. So, they can take some type of precautionary measure but it’s rather difficult because inherent in police work sometimes is that physical and immediate contact with an individual,” he says.

In light of warnings from provincial health officials that a recent surge in cases is due to parties or large gatherings, Heed says people organizing or attending these gatherings should stop and think about the fact that they are putting first responders at risk.

“Police officers are the ones that have to go out and deal with these large gatherings,” he notes. “Let’s prevent these large gatherings from taking place in the first instance.”