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Schenectady, Niskayuna police ramp up coronavirus safeguards as Schenectady officer with COVID-19 'doing fine'

Schenectady, Niskayuna police ramp up coronavirus safeguards as Schenectady officer with COVID-19 'doing fine'

Departments using ozone tech to sanitize vehicles; city officer who tested positive 'doing fine'
Schenectady, Niskayuna police ramp up coronavirus safeguards as Schenectady officer with COVID-19 'doing fine'
Jason Hamilton of Special Vehicle Upfitting adjusts an ozone generator before placing it in a Niskayuna police vehicle Friday.
Photographer: peter r. barber/staff photographer

SCHENECTADY — City Police Chief Eric Clifford expects anywhere between three and six employees will be required to self-quarantine after a city police officer tested positive for coronavirus.

“We are doing it out of an abundance of caution,” Clifford said on Sunday. 

Personnel who are unable to work from home due to the nature of their job descriptions will be given time off for the next 14 days, which is the CDC-advised self-isolation period.

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The department will follow all CDC protocols, said Clifford, who has been in contact with Albany Medical Center.

“He’s in good shape, he’s young,” Clifford said. “He’s doing fine and he doesn’t really feel any symptoms.”

The first diagnosis of a city cop, confirmed by the department on Saturday, comes as NYPD is reeling with soaring caseloads.

Twelve-percent of uniformed NYPD officers, or more than 4,300, called out sick on Saturday, according to NBC New York. The number of sick calls is nearly quadruple the department's daily average.

The number of confirmed NYPD coronavirus cases is expected to increase Monday morning to around 900, reported the New York Post.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday the state doesn’t have any statistics on how many first responders have tested positive so far.

The governor praised first responders and honored the first uniformed NYPD member to succumb to the disease, Det. Cedric Dixon, a 23-year veteran.

“I don't even have the words to express my admiration for them,” Cuomo said. 

The virus has killed 965 statewide as of Sunday. New York City is the nationwide epicenter, with 161 deaths in a 24-hour period over the weekend.

Clifford said city police staffing levels are not yet threatened, and the department continues to practice rigorous sanitation and social distancing protocols to reduce the risk of exposure. 

That includes using the department’s wagon to transport suspects, not patrol vehicles, and issuing appearance tickets instead of booking suspects at their Liberty Street headquarters.

Amid rising concerns by first responders over winnowing supplies of personal protective equipment — both the private and public sectors are organizing drives to collect and donate gear to area hospitals — Clifford said the department currently has ample supplies, including gloves and eyewear.

“We feel comfortable with what we have and what we’re getting at this point,” Clifford said.

Each officer has been issued two N95 masks, which can be reused if they have not come into contact with someone with the virus, Clifford said.

The county and Frog Alley Brewing have also donated supplies of hand sanitizers.

Officers are required to disinfect their work stations multiple times daily, as well as wipe down their vehicles.

When it comes to protecting the patrol fleet, Glenville garage Auto Solutions of New York loaned the department an ozone machine to decontaminate any exposed patrol cars. 

Officials set up a decontamination station at the city garage on Foster Avenue, where officers can turn over their vehicle for sterilization before disrobing and showering. 

Niskayuna Tire & Service is providing the technology to the Niskayuna Police Department.

The location is also offering the service for free to all first responders, as well as to its customer base upon request.

“If the demand is high enough, we’ll get a secondary and third set of equipment,” said Jason Hamilton, the company’s vice president.

The technology is deployed by using a box to pump ozone through a vehicle’s air-conditioning system for between 20 and 30 minutes, Hamilton said.

The process is more effective at killing the virus than wiping down surfaces with disinfectant wipes, Hamilton said, because it can penetrate inaccessible surfaces, as well as eliminate mold that can grow on internal heater boxes. 

Niskayuna Deputy Police Chief Michael Stevens said on Friday the department aimed to sanitize all 16 vehicles imminently, and use the technology on an as-needed basis in the future.

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The department also aims to boost patrols in order to soothe skittish nerves.

“We’re trying to have a presence to present a sense of calm,” Stevens said. 

As the crisis ramps up, city police haven't indicated they believe civil unrest is imminent.

But in preparation of potential conflict, the department is outfitting a Special Operations Response Team van for deployment if necessary, Clifford said, which includes full-body suits to protect officers from contagion and sterilization boxes for their personal items.

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