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As Coconino County law enforcement workers receive vaccinations, procedures and exposures remain factors
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As Coconino County law enforcement workers receive vaccinations, procedures and exposures remain factors

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Sheriff Driscoll Vaccination

Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll rolls up his sleeves to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Fort Tuthill site Wednesday, Jan 13.

Cars had already filled the allotted spots outside the vaccination site at Fort Tuthill when Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll arrived early in the morning a week ago. Typically, residents are administered the vaccine in their vehicles, but Driscoll awaited his shot outside the facility.

Respective spokespeople for the sheriff's office and county were gathered 6 feet apart to document Driscoll, who sat in a folding chair as he received his first dose of the vaccine. The sheriff spoke positively of the current phase of the vaccination, especially on its importance for his officers that are exposed "every day."

"That is why it is vital that as many people as possible get that vaccine. I think it's the one greatest thing that we can do now to finally get a handle on COVID," Driscoll said.

Prioritized groups continue to be administered COVID-19 vaccines at sites throughout northern Arizona, including law enforcement, which can now receive a dose as members of priority Phase 1b. The current phase is expected to continue through February.

Flagstaff Police Department officer Pedro Sanchez received his first dose of the vaccine last week at the Flagstaff Medical Center, and described the process as "easy," taking about 20 minutes total.

Sanchez will have to return in a few weeks to receive his second and final dose.

While the vaccine is not mandatory for law enforcement personnel, local agencies like FPD and Coconino County Sheriff's Office encourage their officers to schedule appointments and receive their doses.

"Getting the vaccine would ease a lot of the worry for most officers," Sanchez said, addressing the potential risk of transmission faced by officers during interactions with the public. He added that he had not experienced any pushback from his colleagues, who have been supportive of his decision to get the vaccine.

In total, 6,613 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the region, with an additional 962 doses reserved for appointments, according to the latest report released Friday.

It is unclear how many officers in the area have been vaccinated, as both departments had not provided numbers at the time of publication.

FPD Chief Dan Musselman recently told the Arizona Daily Sun that he was "looking forward" to the vaccination opening up to law enforcement, noting the encouragement it will bring to both the community and his officers.

"We've weathered the storm so far, so I'm really excited for a pending vaccine," Musselman said.

FPD addresses exposures on-duty

Law enforcement agencies worldwide have been forced to adapt their practices to prevent transmission during police encounters. FPD handles the circumstances much the same, implementing mandatory quarantines, personal protective equipment (PPE) use and virtual meetings.

"Depending on the circumstances of the call for service, it is recommended that officers practice social distancing," FPD spokesperson Charles Hernandez said.

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One prominent obstacle officers face during an encounter is a differing personal experience. Face coverings create a communication barrier between an officer and an individual, resulting in a challenging circumstance for both parties.

Additionally, precautions to prevent transmission might result in shorter interactions or a reluctance from individuals to engage in prolonged contact with officers, Hernandez said. If officers need to conduct interviews or contact reporting parties, such as witnesses or suspects, it must be done in an open-air setting.

As far as specific changes to policy, Hernandez said there have not been any. Although the manner in which officers adhere to prior policies has changed due to the governor's order and mayor's proclamation, both of which addressed preventing community transmission, police encounters remain consistent with expected compliance within the community.

"We did not create policies or change policies in place, and continue to provide the level of service our community has come to expect," Hernandez said. "Even more so, our agency is committed to ensuring public health safety by wearing a mask during encounters."

The department is also using these encounters as an opportunity to educate community members about the new requirements.

The department currently requires officers to report encounters to a supervisor that are deemed high- or medium-risk exposure, providing the specific circumstances, Hernandez said. It is also required that an infectious exposure report be completed and that officers monitor their own health.

In the event of any exposure, including low-risk exposures, officers who exhibit symptoms will be asked to stay at home for 72 hours. If symptoms continue, they will get tested for the virus.

Officers who return a negative result are expected to resume normal duties.

A positive result will trigger a mandatory 14-day quarantine at home or a city site. After the 14-day period, officers may resume normal duties, barring persisting symptoms. Additionally, an officer will not be cleared for duty until they have been free of a fever for 72 hours without using fever-suppressing medication.

To mitigate exposure, the FPD issued a COVID-19 kit to its officers. The kit contains multiple sets of gloves, bacteria protection masks, goggles and antibacterial wipes. Officers are expected to use all equipment and precautions when possible and were made aware of a special order regarding how and when the equipment should be used.

"We will do our best to ensure the encounter limits transmission opportunities," Hernandez said.

The department asks members of the public to do their part in limiting transmission. During an encounter with an officer, whether consensual or during an investigation, an individual should adhere to the government's and the CDC's social distancing recommendations.

According to the Coconino County Health and Public Services (CCHPS), COVID-19 is spread through coughing, sneezing, close personal contact and physical touch.

Musselman said he believes the Flagstaff community has been responsible overall when it comes to following restrictions on large gatherings and mask-wearing restrictions. There have been moments, however, during which officers have been called to deal with someone refusing to be compliant. When these problems arise, Musselman said it has usually resulted in an opportunity for an officer to educate an individual about the pandemic.

"Our goal is education to get voluntary compliance. Often you can shame people into compliance or leaving for the benefit of others," Musselman said.

He added that he would continue to advocate for his officers' safety, whether that's having phone operators ask callers if they've been tested or issuing PPE to his officers.

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