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COVID-19 hitting St. Louis area's 2 largest police departments

One department is forthcoming with information about the spread of the virus, while the other refuses to share information citing privacy laws
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Police units respond to the scene of an emergency.

ST. LOUIS — The coronavirus is continuing to spread throughout the St. Louis area’s two largest police departments, leaving one department struggling to fill a detective bureau and another department coping with 10 positive cases in just five days.

But the St. Louis and St. Louis County police departments differ on how they are disseminating information about affected officers and staff members.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department referred all questions to the St. Louis Health Department.

A spokesman, Harold Bailey, wrote in a statement he would not be releasing information about the affected officers, “because the number of cases there are small enough to allow individuals to be identified.”

He continued: “The release of that information would be a violation of privacy laws.”

Bailey’s statement also did not say what the city is doing to mitigate the spread.

“As you know we are experiencing community spread of COVID-19 and no business is exempt from COVID-19 related issues. The Department of Health continues to encourage all businesses to follow the mitigation measures mandated in the Health Commissioner's Orders and guidelines established for businesses, which are specifically outlined in Health Commissioner Order No. 8.”

Not even the police union knows how the department is working to clean the affected work areas, said Business Manager Jeff Roorda.

He said there have been 17 officers to test positive in recent weeks, creating a total of 28 officers quarantined. The outbreak is mostly affecting the city’s Central Patrol Division, where the third and fourth districts, which cover downtown St. Louis, he said.

The cases have hit the precinct’s detective bureau hardest, he said.

“I think it contributes to the spread, that they’re so secretive about the outbreaks and exposures,” Roorda said. “They don’t tell their employees or the union about them, we found out through other means.

“The spread within the police department endangers the general public.”

Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Police Department’s public information officers routinely issue press releases detailing the number of police officers and staff members who test positive.

On Monday, Officer Tracy Panus wrote 10 members of the police department have tested positive for the virus in the past five days -- making November the department's highest month for positive cases.

"As of the end of October, we were at 46 total positive cases dating back to March 28," she wrote. "We’ve clearly made quite the jump from there. 

"Fortunately our cases are spread out throughout the department and most of our officers have recovered and returned to duty."

She said the latest outbreak has affected officers and civilian staff members from four precincts, the Division of Operational Support and the Division of Special Operations. 

She said department leaders are unsure how the staff members contracted the virus, but added work areas and vehicles have been thoroughly cleaned.

Since March 28, St. Louis County police have seen a total of 96 positive cases. Of those, 77 have returned to duty, according to Panus.

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