PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – Seven Putnam County sheriff’s deputies have quarantined after one of them tested positive for COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the deputy who tested positive for the new coronavirus on Sunday was trained on COVID-19 symptoms and requested testing after noticing some of them.
“The deputy did the appropriate thing by participating in a Department of Health screening. And, at that point, it was decided that he should be tested based on his symptoms," said Col. Joe Wells, with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
That deputy will quarantine for 14 days, as well as six other deputies who worked the same shift and were in contact with him.
“Because of the quick reaction of our deputy in recognizing the symptoms, we were able to limit exposure to just a few other deputies," Wells said.
As of Tuesday evening, according to the Sheriff’s Office, five of the other deputies were not showing symptoms. But Wells said the other deputy was tested "because of possible symptoms, and we’re still awaiting those tests.”
The deputy who tested positive for COVID-19 was not hospitalized and was recovering at last check. Once the two-week quarantine period is up, he still will not be able to return to work until he has been tested two more times and the results of those tests come back negative.
The Sheriff’s Office said it was not immediately known how the deputy was exposed to the virus and whether it happened at work or while off-duty.
“The deputy did not respond to any known positive cases,” Wells said. “But, we knew there was a high likelihood we would have at least one positive case because of the nature of our job and the contact we make with the public when responding to calls.”
The health department will be monitoring the status of the seven deputies, along with anyone who had contact with the deputy who tested positive.
Once a deputy tests positive for COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office will review GPS tracking data from the deputy’s patrol cars, along with dispatch calls, to see where the deputy traveled while on duty. That way, they can alert people the deputy has been in contact with. But in this case, Wells said, "The primary window of concern is 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms, and that deputy had not been on duty the 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms.”
It’s also worth noting that since school is out, resource officers who would normally work on school campuses are now working the shift of the patrol deputies who have quarantined.
“We want to assure our residents there is no slowing of service to our community,” Wells said.
Deputies are also issued personal protective equipment including masks, eye protection and gloves.
“You know the deputies are using all the protections and training they have at their discretion and going about the business of serving citizens every day, knowing they are at an elevated risk for this," Wells said.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said everyone across the nation should get used to seeing law enforcement officers wearing personal protective gear.
“They have to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves because they have families. They don’t want to be exposed to this virus by being a public servant. So, there are those officers wearing gloves, some are wearing masks and they’re being extra careful when going out on these calls," Wells said.
Wells said Putnam County dispatch is now screening calls to make sure responding deputies know whether they are about to encounter a person who may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
“But you know, sometimes those things don’t work because the deputy may make spontaneous contact with people and people may not be entirely honest when they answer those questions,” Wells said.
Wells said there are occasions when deputies will dress up in full protective gear from head to toe when they know in advance that they’re about to meet with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Tuesday night, according to the Florida Department of Health, there were 43 COVID-19 cases in Putnam County, with one death.