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15 St. Petersburg police officers test positive for COVID-19

A civilian employee was also infected. The positive cases are straining St. Petersburg's police force.
St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway, left, wears a mask as he speaks with protestors outside City Hall on June 6. The department said 15 officers and a civilian employee recently tested positive for COVID-19.
St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway, left, wears a mask as he speaks with protestors outside City Hall on June 6. The department said 15 officers and a civilian employee recently tested positive for COVID-19. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 2, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Fifteen officers and one civilian employee have tested positive for COVID-19 since June 15, the St. Petersburg Police Department announced Thursday.

It’s another sign that the coronavirus pandemic is still spreading across Tampa Bay and Florida. Six of the officers tested positive this week even as the agency says it stepped up measures to contain the virus.

The infected officers work in the investigative, uniform and administrative bureaus. All may have interacted with the public during their shifts, said police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez. A few worked on the same squad.

Related: Policing in the time of coronavirus: Tampa Bay cops share their stories

The department did not name those officers, explain how they came in contact with the virus, give a timeline of the infections, their current medical conditions or say what specific duties the officers or the civilian employee performed, citing privacy concerns.

The agency conducted on-site rapid testing for nearly 200 employees on June 16-18. The result was 3 positive cases. But since then, employees concerned about COVID-19 exposure have been getting tested through private doctors, Fernandez said.

To try to contain the virus, the agency has begun using foggers to regularly spray disinfecting mists in work areas and patrol cars, Fernandez said. Masks are required and social-distancing is encouraged inside police headquarters and hand sanitizer stations are available in every hallway.

The agency also started using ultraviolet light to sanitize incoming mail and is planning to install a UV sanitation system in the building air condition system via a Department of Justice grant.

Related: ‘Take it seriously.’ Tampa police officer recounts coronavirus ordeal

The infections has strained the staff, said St. Petersburg police Officer Jonathan Vasquez, a canine handler who serves as president of the Sun Coast Florida Police Benevolent Association.

“You have officers who are not able to work and having to quarantine,” he said. “It’s causing a trickle-down effect of officers being pulled from specialized units and extra duties to come cover shifts.”

When officers respond to 911 calls, he said, they can’t always maintain social distancing and sometimes have to interact with people who aren’t wearing masks.

“Sometimes we can’t keep the 6 foot distance, and we can’t go choose to quarantine,” he said. “We can’t work from home.”

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