Calif. chief to Trump admin: Stop testing NBA players for COVID-19, start testing first responders
Police officials nationwide voiced concerns about officer safety during a call organized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police
VACAVILLE, Calif. — Vacaville Police Chief John Carli, during a conference call with White House and Homeland Security officials last week, called on federal officials trying to manage the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States to consider granting testing priority to our nation’s first responders.
“Stop testing NBA players, and start testing our first responders,” Carli was quoted as saying, according to an initial report by ABC News, during a call Friday that was organized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The call was meant to provide police chiefs across the country with the resources and information they need to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Portions of the call, including Carli’s comments, were also reported by The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.
But Carli and other police chiefs on the call, according to newspaper report, voiced common problems multiple departments are facing across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Officer health and well-being.
Given the nature of the disease and with hospitalizations of people between ages of 18 and 50 proving to be the majority, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, many first responders are especially susceptible to infection because of their frequent and necessary contact with the public.
Carli and his colleagues across the country are concerned about force “sustainability” as their respective departments try to keep communities safe, with the health and safety of officers key to completing that mission today — and two months from now.
With increased exposure, more officers are likely to contract the virus and have to stop working. This creates both an increase in cases and a shortage in law enforcement on the streets, the police chiefs agreed.
According to ABC and The Hill reports, a New Jersey police officer expressed this concern as he worried federal privacy policies will prohibit both officers and civilians from preparing against the virus if they don’t know where current cases are located.
“We’ve already had a case where a positive test was out breaking the quarantine, driving around with just a mask on, in their car,” the officer warned on the call. Instances like these, where emergency workers are infected and unknowingly spreading the virus, would undermine the social distancing and quarantine efforts.
As a solution, Carli, who earned a master’s degree in strategic leadership and has headed the Vacaville department for six years, proposed that hospitals and clinics establish “back channels” for exclusive testing of first responders.
“If we’re quarantining [our] people for 14 days … we’re going to lose our first responders,” Carli said over the phone, according to the ABC report. “And we have to, at a national level, get the support down to the local level. Stop testing NBA players, and start testing our first responders.”
During an interview Monday, the chief considered his comment — “And I stand by it,” he said — to be more about “coming up with best practices” as leaders try to manage virus spread. It also comes amid news reports of many celebrities and professional basketball players, including former Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant, testing positive for the virus while effective tests remain somewhat scarce and largely unavailable nationwide.
Carli said his comments were intended for “officials that answer to the highest levels of government” and not intended as criticism, noting that NBA players “have loved ones and they’re going through (the pandemic) the same way everyone else is.”
Still, the apparent special access the rich and famous appear to have in access to testing rubs Carli the wrong way.
“Let’s establish that first responders have a high-priority need,” he said.
“It’s an issue and we need to address it,” added Carli, who, in July 2016, after the Dallas mass shooting, met with President Obama, other elected officials, civil rights leaders and activists from across the nation about healing rifts between citizens and law enforcement officers. “Let’s try to come up with the best practices and bring them down to the local level. We’re trying not to quarantine first responders.”
The conference call was recorded because the IAPC “shares it with members,” he noted.
Carli expressed gratitude for the Trump administration’s COVID-19 task force, saying they have “the best intentions to stave off this health care crisis, trying to contain it and mitigate it.”
Referring to his “back channels” comment about testing officers and other public safety employees, Carli explained, “We’re in a community and we work with hospitals. These are first responders and what we need is a process in place” for the testing first responders —to protect them, their co-workers and the public.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “It’s how we manage it. How do we help by not contributing to overwhelming the health care system?”