Philly police lieutenant dies from COVID-19

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A Philadelphia police officer with 33 years on the job has become the first city employee to die from complications related to the COVID-19 virus, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Monday.

Lt. James Walker, 59, who was assigned to the traffic division, died Sunday night at a Montgomery County hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus, officials said.

Walker joined the department in June 1987 and was set to retire in December, according to police. He leaves behind his wife, adult daughter and grandchildren.

“This is a heartbreaking reminder that the virus is affecting people throughout our communities, especially those on the front lines,” Kenney said during his daily press briefing. “Our condolences go out to his many loved ones.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke, in a statement, said Walker was “a well-liked and well-respected member of the department.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw called Walker’s death “deeply painful.”

“The loss of his life illustrates the commitment that he and members of the Philadelphia Police Department have to serve the communities of this city, even in times of unprecedented risk and challenge,” she said in a statement.

Kenney said it was not clear how Walker contracted the virus, and officials said they did not know when he last reported to work.

The mayor said there are no plans to implement major changes to police operations, and that the city will continue following the advice of the Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On March 18, Outlaw outlined changes to arresting procedures and other protocols in an effort to reduce contact between police officers and suspects. She said the department is constantly assessing its COVID-19-related policies and will make adjustments if necessary.

In addition, N95 masks have been provided to all officers to use when necessary, according to Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

City leaders have refused to disclose how many police officers and firefighters have been diagnosed with the virus, or how many are quarantining at home after being exposed to it.

Abernathy said the city is comfortable with deployment levels, and the use of sick time within the department is about the same as it was in early March.

Officials on Monday reported 3,728 coronavirus cases, an increase of 539 over the course of 24 hours, and two additional fatalities, bringing Philadelphia’s death toll to 45.

Federal health experts have predicted that this week will be the deadliest week of the pandemic in the United States.

“I can certainly say that the number of cases and the number of deaths are likely to rise this week, but I don’t think anybody can predict when it’s going to top out,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

Forty percent of hospital beds in the region remain empty, so the healthcare system has not yet been overwhelmed, he added.

A COVID-19 testing site that opened March 20 outside Citizens Bank Park will cease operations after Friday. Farley said the city’s federal partners are pulling support for the location. Supplies will be transferred to other testing facilities in the city.

The CBP site administered its fewest number of tests on Sunday, perhaps a sign that demand is waning, Farley said. He added that residents should still have good access to testing, with more than 20 other locations open in the area.

A city-run, appointment-only site in Center City will continue operating, Farley said. People interested in being referred for a test can call 267-491-5870.

The Health Department conducted a survey last week and found that 93 percent of respondents said they were following social distancing guidelines “very closely” or “somewhat closely,” officials said. Nearly 60 percent said they were having fewer close contacts with people than they did before the outbreak.

Farley said it was good news, but that the city could do better. He gave residents a B-plus.

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