PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Police Department now has new protocols to improve safety for its officers. Philadelphia’s men and women in blue have been directed to wear a mask or cloth covering to protect themselves, their coworkers and the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced Wednesday morning each of the department’s 6,500 officers were issued a cloth mask that they’re now required to wear. They were also given a bag to store their mask in.READ MORE: 2 People Killed In Fast-Moving Rowhome Fire In Wilmington
However, the administration has asked officers not to wear N95 masks, which are in short supply.
Officers were already wearing masks during a double shooting investigation Tuesday night in Kingsessing. But some officers’ masks were not covering their noses.
“We started distributing them yesterday and then the guidelines got pushed out after the fact,” Outlaw said. “The ideal situation is to be able to push out guidelines first then distribute the equipment. Given what we’ve been dealing with, it hasn’t always been perfect.”
In an internal memo, Outlaw explained the new policy to officers, writing in part, “The purpose of providing these masks is to help prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus among our coworkers. Many who have the virus have no signs or symptoms.”
Philadelphia’s health commissioner adds it’s important that officers are protecting themselves.
“Everybody who’s around somebody else, within 6 feet, should be wearing a mask and that mask should cover their nose and mouth,” Dr. Thomas Farley said.READ MORE: Police: Man Shot Multiple Times, Killed In North Philadelphia
The directive comes days after Lt. James Walker died Sunday night from COVID-19 complications.
“We are unsure how and where Lt. Walker contracted the coronavirus, but we will continue to do all we can to protect the men and women serving on the front lines,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a news conference Monday.
Eyewitness News has learned at least 50 members of the police department have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Philadelphia FOP President John McNesby said he is working with the city to ensure officers are protected, but that it’s been difficult to obtain supplies.
“Masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, we’re getting that out as quick as we can, unfortunately, it’s tough to find,” he said. “So we’re buying everything that we can and I know the city is buying what they can and we’re trying to get it out as quick as we can.”
The city is running into the same problem. When asked if the police department had enough supplies to distribute, Outlaw said, “The answer is yes and no. We get our supplies through the city. All of the stockpiles, all the equipment we get are disturbed to each individual department. So what we’re pulling from is also supplies for the rest of the city as well. Everything is in limited quantity and the FOP has been amazing with stepping up and filling up those gaps.”
Officers have also been instructed to place a face mask on people they are arresting, whenever possible.
Outlaw also revealed Wednesday she was tested for COVID-19. That test came back negative. She and her administrative staff are also now working from home.MORE NEWS: Woman Shot, Killed In Kensington Home
CBS3’s Trang Do and Matt Petrillo contributed to this report.