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COVID-19 leading cause of death among law enforcement officers; local departments explain impact

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:46 PM CST
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MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) - In the last few months, Wisconsin has lost two officers to COVID-19. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, COVID-19 continues to be the leading cause of death among law enforcement officers nationwide. And the numbers have grown even larger this year, compared to last year.

Both Kronenwetter and Wausau Police Departments said they’ve been impacted by the pandemic, just like the rest of us. Both departments said staffing is a top concern, and mitigating the spread is a top priority for both.

“It’s been a challenge for us, especially as a smaller department, we’ve been really impacted from the get-go,” Chief Terry McHugh said.

He stated that keeping a full staff has also been a roller-coaster ride. “We had some of it then we had a nice break where we thought we were doing pretty well, and kind of over the hump, and lately, we’re getting hit again.”

He said the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases are a concern for the department. “[We’re] hearing it over the radio just a lot more lately here that I can remember, even since the pandemic started, the number of EMS calls that the patient is COVID positive.”

McHugh explained that changes had to be made to maximize his staff while minimizing the spread of COVID-19 among them and the community. “If it’s something relatively quote end quote ‘simple’ as far as EMS goes, we’ll stay out of that.”

Roughly 60% of the Kronenwetter Police Department’s officers are vaccinated. Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven also shared his department’s officer’s vaccination rate, which is 75%. Neither of the departments is requiring the vaccine, but McHugh said the two recent deaths of the Wisconsin officers are hitting closer to home.

“It is troubling when you see as a professional we are losing a great number of people to COVID and I think as a profession we need to look very seriously at,” He said. “The officers are so trained to what we called the ‘normal threats’, gunfire, vehicle deaths, etc. that it can be easy to overlook something like COVID thinking ‘well that won’t happen to me.’”

But he said it’s a trend he thinks is reversible by taking the right steps. “The vaccine is an option, for me, that’s the first line of defense, again respect everyone’s right to make their own decision on that...just taking universal precautions, I think together we can lower this number.”

Chief Bliven told NewsChannel 7 their COVID-19 precautions won’t stop them from going after criminals. Bliven said the department is also following CDC protocols after an exposure.

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