Calif. police, first responders get on-site COVID-19 decontamination station

Officers can use the facility to thoroughly decontaminate their clothing and gear in under a half an hour

Robert Salonga
Mercury News

SOUTH BAY, Calif. — South Bay police officers and first responders who want to minimize any potential COVID-19 contamination they encounter in the field now have access to a station that will allow them to swiftly get clean and back to duty.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has established a “Virus Response Team” that will maintain a tented area and adjacent shower trailer behind the agency’s training center at Hedding and San Pedro streets — across from the main jail and courthouse — for qualifying personnel to disinfect their gear and get cleaned up in about half an hour.

“We know that if we can’t be safe, we can’t protect the public,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said Tuesday at a demonstration of the new clean-up station.

The COVID-19 risk to police, firefighters and other emergency workers has been evident since the pandemic reached the United States. At least 15 San Jose firefighters were confirmed to have been infected at some point, along with nine Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies, and one reserve officer and two full-time officers with San Jose police.

Tony Bowden, chief of the Santa Clara County Fire Department, said the need for decontamination is especially pronounced for police officers, since firefighters and EMS workers have historically had decontamination measures inside their fire trucks and ambulances.

Bowden said police officers and sheriff’s deputies were the most exposed, since their agencies are “much more limited” in their ability to protect officers during sometimes-unpredictable encounters on the street.

Along those lines, Smith said her office recently purchased a $7,900 ozone sterilizer to quickly decontaminate patrol vehicles, and a $3,900 room sterilizer that uses ultraviolet light to kill pathogens. COVID-19 is vulnerable to both measures, and both devices are readily used by fire departments and other emergency vehicles.

Tuesday, sheriff’s Sgt. Tyler Fernandes narrated as Deputy Linden Dexter went through the paces of the pop-up decontamination facility. Dexter began by stepping his boots into a bleach solution, then proceeded to separate and disinfect his duty belt and other gear. Eventually he put his uniform and boots into bags for later disinfecting and washing.

That’s supposed to be followed by the stage where Dexter would bag his underclothes, take a shower, and have other clothes on the other side. For a variety of reasons, the showering was not demonstrated for assembled media. Ideally, police officers and others who utilize the decontamination station would be expected to have a change of uniform and clothes handy when they head in.

Four sergeants and six deputies will share duties to keep the station staffed 24 hours a day, Smith said. A similar setup has been established at the county jails for correctional deputies, which was made easier by the existing availability of showers at those facilities.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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