Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Monday that police officers will be expected to wear protective masks on most calls, as the department announced its first confirmed coronavirus case.

The policy change comes as calls grow louder for strengthening protections of cops and other front-line workers against the novel coronavirus that, as of Sunday, had infected 1,650 people across the state, killing 70.

“We are closely monitoring and managing officers’ health, including putting protocols in place for possible and confirmed exposure including testing,” Arradondo said in a statement released Monday. “We will continue to be vigilant and take necessary measures to keep all our employees healthy and well.”

Officials did not identify the affected employee.

The chief’s announcement comes weeks after similar moves in cities like New York and Detroit, whose police departments have been strained as hundreds of officers have gone out sick or into quarantine. But until now, Minnesota’s largest police department had been spared from the unfolding pandemic.

Still, Arradondo said, the department has had to adapt its approach in “these unprecedented times,” balancing the health of its officers and residents with maintaining public safety.

“We have taken aggressive steps to keep officers healthy so they can keep you safe,” his statement said. “Some of these steps include enhanced personal protective equipment, some changes to staffing models and schedule changes that still allow for the City to be fully covered by the MPD.”

Citing patient privacy laws, a police spokesman that said he couldn’t discuss whether any of the people who worked alongside the sick employee had shown any symptoms themselves or if, and how for how long, they themselves were ordered to self-quarantine in their homes.

Officers had previously been assigned protective equipment such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, but hadn’t been required to wear them on all calls. But mask usage remains sporadic

Under the new policy, officers will have to don masks whenever interacting with the public, with a few exceptions, according to the spokesman, John Elder.

“We acknowledge that there are some people who are simply going to be uncomfortable dealing with police officers who are wearing a mask,” he said.

Minneapolis has taken other precautions. Weekly crime strategy meetings are being conducted via video conferencing, detectives are conducting more interviews in the field, and certain low-level 911 calls are being handled out of a temporary call center staffed by members of the Community Engagement Team.

Two Minneapolis police officers had previously tested negative for coronavirus, and Arradondo said that “some of our staff have gone through a period of quarantine,” including the infected employee.

St. Paul has recorded two known cases of officers infected with the virus.

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order compelling the state Health Department to share the location of COVID-19 infections with police, firefighters and other first responders.

 

Staff writers Liz Sawyer and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.