“We’re falling like flies,” said Shannon Moore, police chief of Humboldt.
Of Humboldt’s five-member police force, two have tested positive for COVID-19 and Chief Moore, who is displaying symptoms, was awaiting her test results Friday afternoon.
Moore said she has contacted the Allen County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Kansas Highway Patrol requesting backup.
Cole Herder, city administrator, assured residents “We’ll have someone on staff 24 hours a day.”
Herder said during normal times “we have double coverage about 16 hours a day,” but that probably won’t be the case now.
The Humboldt force has two part-time officers who have been called in, “but they work full-time jobs,” Moore said.
Moore also assured Humboldt residents public safety services would continue, but “the response time may not be as good.”
MOORE said officers have been placed in increased danger by a lack of sufficient knowledge of local COVID-19 cases.
That’s a direct result of the breakdown in communication between officers and the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Departments, Moore said.
As of last week, the SEKMCHD has stopped informing local entities of case numbers and their whereabouts.
“I had an officer respond to a situation in a house and only later did we find out the occupant was positive for COVID-19,” she said.
Moore said that after a discussion with Rebecca Johnson, director of the health department, it appeared Johnson’s “hands were tied,” by her board of directors, intimating it was their wish to keep such information from the public.
“As law enforcement, we want to help,” Moore said. “But we need to know if someone has COVID-19, putting us at risk. We have enough worries about what kind of situations we go into on a daily basis. COVID-19 should not be one of them.”
Other helpful information from the health department had been the end date of a person’s quarantine.
“That way when we see them out and about, we know they’re safe from spreading the virus,” she said.
Moore said if she tests positive she suspects she contracted the virus from a fellow officer.
IOLA Fire Chief Tim Thyer said his ambulance and fire crews have had similar experiences when it comes to responding to calls and not knowing if the individuals are positive for COVID-19.
“You have to make a decision to act or go back and get your gear. Patient care has always been Job No. 1 for us,” he said.
That’s why dispatchers ask so many questions, he said.
“Sometimes we don’t really know what we have until we get there.”
HERDER said the outbreak not only among the police department but also among area medical providers could affect community safety.
“It’s another reminder that we all need to be involved in protecting each other by wearing face masks and social distancing,” he said.