Lacombe County had to take one of its community peace officers off the job temporarily when a COVID-19 contact tracer said someone pulled over in a roadside stop later tested positive for the virus.
After some careful checking, it was determined to be a false alarm. The officer had pulled over the infected driver, but it was nearly two weeks ago, not recently as the driver had told health officials.
Keith Boras, the county’s community services director, said it turned out to be a case of a hazy memory on the part of the driver, who had gotten his timelines wrong when asked by contact tracers who he had been with and when.
However, the incident shows the potential for those in enforcement to find themselves at risk of getting infected while going about their duties.
Boras said the county’s community peace officers wear masks and gloves and are careful to keep a safe distance from others when possible. Officers have even taken to taking photographs of people’s identification and driving documents rather than handle them.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can,” he said.
Red Deer RCMP has taken a similar approach, said Sgt. Karyn Kay.
All officers responding to calls and dealing with the public are wearing N-95 masks and gloves. Frequent hand washing is now part of the job and police vehicles, which are shared among officers, are also carefully sanitized.
Anyone taken into custody is also asked a series of questions on top of the usual questions about whether the person is carrying any needles or sharp objects. As well, people are now asked if they have any COVID symptoms, had been in contact with someone with symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID, or whether they had recently travelled outside the country or been around someone who had.
Despite the hundreds of interactions police officers have had with the public there have only been a handful of known contacts with infected individuals, said Kay. She is not aware of any cases of tracers identifying officers as possible contacts.
“We’ve been very, very fortunate here,” she said. “And people have been good.”
The few times there have been contacts, a strict protocol is followed.
“If a member has come into contact, or believed to have come in contact with somebody with COVID, they are self-isolating and getting tested.”
Inside the detachment, efforts have been made to create more separation between people and those who can work from outside or from their cars.
“Our members are following the Alberta Health guidelines that have been set out,” said Kay. “Everything that is offered or suggested we’re doing here to do whatever we can to keep our members safe.
“We do everything with Alberta Health Services. We work with them and have a really good relationship with them.”
While police can be called if there is an issue with someone not wearing a mask. So far, Kay is aware of only incident where RCMP were called in to deal with an obstinate non-mask wearer who refused to leave a business.
In Saskatchewan, city police in Regina and Saskatoon have responded to about 2,600 calls related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and say they are ready for a possible increase in calls after recent changes to public health orders.
In Saskatoon, 794 of those calls were specific to the Quarantine Act and checks on people arriving from international travel.
In Red Deer, officers have gone to 183 COVID-related calls.