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Tampa police officer tests positive for coronavirus; dozens have self-quarantined

Dozens more officers are isolating themselves after coming into contact with people who felt unwell or showed symptoms of COVID-19, according to the Tampa Police Department.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan speaks during a Facebook Live address on Wednesday about how his department plans to enforce an expected stay-at-home order in the city to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In his remarks, Dugan said dozens of his officers are self-quarantining after coming into contact with someone who reported feeling unwell. [Facebook]

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TAMPA — A police officer has tested positive for the novel coronavirus and dozens more officers have been quarantined, Tampa officials said Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Tampa police officer recently completed training and last worked on March 15, Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference. A few days later, he started feeling ill and notified the department’s occupational nurse.

The officer was then put on quarantine and his test results came back Wednesday positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that can lead to severe respiratory infections. He is doing better and is expected to recover, officials said.

Dugan declined to say where in the city the officer was working but said officials were retracing his steps.

“I am concerned and I’m not going to mislead people,” Dugan said. “It’s gotten real and it’s only going to get worse.”

Related: Hillsborough to enact curfew and ‘safer-at-home’ order for coronavirus

Meantime, dozens more of the department’s officers have been quarantined in recent days after coming into contact with someone who reported feeling ill, showed symptoms of the COVID-19, or both.

As of Thursday, 30 officers were still in quarantine and another 45 were being monitored by the department’s occupational nurse, according to the department. Nine officers who were showing symptoms of the virus were still awaiting test results.

Among the officers who have been quarantined are 15 who might have come into contact with the virus in the line of duty. Three of the officers preformed CPR on someone Tuesday who died despite their efforts. The cause of the person’s death had not been confirmed.

Dugan said the department’s staffing levels are adequate despite the quarantine, in part because calls for service are down.

Dugan urged the public to heed a stay-at-home order in the works for Hillsborough County to reduce the chance of getting infected or infecting others, especially the first responders who face a greater risk of exposure because of their frequent and often close contact with the public. He emphasized Castor’s new plea: Stay home for us so we can be here for you.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group on Wednesday agreed to move forward with an evening curfew and county-wide ‘safer-at-home’ order.

“The big message is you could potentially expose someone else, you could be exposed by a police officer at this point,” Dugan said. “If you don’t show your butt, you don’t have to worry about contracting it from a police officer. Just stay inside your house and you won’t have any problems.”

Related: Your questions on Pinellas and Hillsborough’s stay at home orders, answered

No deputies with Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have had to self-quarantine as of Wednesday, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.

In a Facebook Live address earlier in the day, Dugan said his officers would not be cracking down on potential offenders of the order in a full-fledged enforcement effort. Instead, he appealed to the public’s conscience.

"We're relying on people to be good citizens," Dugan said.

The stay at home order will allow people to be away from home to perform essential tasks, exercise and get to their jobs in a wide range of professions, services and trades.

"We're not going to stop someone who's out there going for a jog," Dugan said "Now if we see someone out there with a TV on their shoulder, that's probably going to be a little suspicious and we're going to stop them. But we are asking people to use common sense."

Motorists also shouldn’t expect checkpoints on the roads.

“We’re not going to be stopping cars or doing road checks or anything like that to prevent people from coming in," Dugan said.

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