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COVID-19 could double line of duty first responder deaths, report finds

2 Northeast Florida officers have died related to coronavirus

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The “Officer Down Memorial Page” and “National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund” both list more than 100 first responder deaths related to coronavirus -- that’s more than gun violence, crashes, and all other causes combined.

The groups are also working to verify another 150 potential COVID-19 deaths.

A recent report predicts COVID-19 could double the overall line of duty deaths among first responders this year.

Northeast Florida has already lost two law enforcement members to COVID-19 complications. The deaths of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Cunningham and Clay County Sgt. Eric Twisdale, both 48, were both treated as line of duty deaths because it’s believed they contracted the virus while working.

The 2020 Officer Down Memorial Ride takes place on Saturday.

It brings together hundreds of law enforcement motorcycle enthusiasts and supporters from around the country to pay tribute to America’s fallen heroes and raise awareness of line of duty deaths nationally.

It will be completely virtual for health and safety reasons during the pandemic.

Twisdale and Cunningham are just some of the 200 law enforcement heroes who died in the line of duty across the country who will be honored during the Officer Down Memorial Ride taking place online.

Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook said first responders know they deal with risks on the job every day.

“We don’t have the luxury or benefit of saying no we’re not going to respond. If citizens call for help, we’re going to be there,” Cook said. “We don’t have the luxury of being nonessential. First responders, even in the midst of a pandemic and all of the other threats that they face, still come to work every day to serve their communities.”

She said other members of her agency have tested positive for coronavirus and are in quarantine.

“They actually tested positive a couple weeks ago and most of them have come back. So we’re not sure, at some point there was a cross. But we do know other people he worked with tested positive a couple weeks ago,” Cook said of Twisdale, who was honored Thursday morning with a procession that escorted his body from the hospital to a local funeral home.

Vaccine coming?

First responders will likely be prioritized when a COVID-19 vaccine is approved.

The CDC has released a plan, saying the goal is to have the vaccine on its way to administration sites within 24 hours of approval.

One challenge will be tracking who gets the vaccine, and where they got it from.

Two vaccines that are currently in Phase 3 trials require two doses either three or four weeks apart.

And both doses MUST come from the same manufacturer. They are not interchangeable.

Dr. Robert Redfield from the CDC says those on the front lines of the pandemic could be prioritized as the first to get a vaccine.

“I think the vaccination will begin November and December, and then pick up, in a prioritized way, the first responders and those at greatest risk of death, and then eventually that will expand,” Redfield said.

When the vaccine is created, it will be free of charge thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress.