COVID leading cause of death for police officers 2 years in a row
More police officers have died from COVID-19 than from being fatally injured on the job for the second year in a row.
The Newark Police Department is coming off an explosion of cases of the Omicron variant. It is why the public safety director says that the weapons they have to fight the virus are just as important as a bulletproof vest.
“Getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, getting boosted. That’s as serious as wearing a bulletproof vest,” says Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara.
O’Hara says he has lost nine officers to the virus. He says that they got the virus while on the job. One of them was 43-year-old Richard McKnight, a Newark police aide.
“It’s absolutely tragic what happened to him. I saw him, I think on a Wednesday. I saw him in the building, said hello to him. He was the same as he always was, soft-spoken, polite and friendly person,” O’Hara says.
Days later he died.
A new report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund says that in the United States 458 officers died in the line of duty last year. That’s an increase of 55% from 2020 and the most in 90 years. About 300 of them died from COVID-19. The report says that these officers died due to direct exposure to the virus during their official duties.
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“The numbers are staggering,” says acting New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan.
He says that he is not surprised. Police officers have been on the front lines during the entire pandemic. Callahan says that two-thirds of his troopers are vaccinated.
Lt. Matt Razukas was vaccinated. But COVID played a role in his death over the summer.
“Matt was a healthy 50-year-old male who was vaccinated. And the fact that we’ll be etching his names down there in the wall in Washington D.C. is heartbreaking,” says Callahan.
The hope is that this wave of the virus won’t be as deadly. But it has been a struggle.
“The week of Christmas was scary,” says O’Hara.
This is because about 200 officers were out sick at a time when many were off. O’Hara says he wasn’t sure if there would be enough officers to handle everyday calls.
O’Hara actually reached out to Callahan in case Newark needed the assistance of the state police. Luckily, it did not come down to that.
Callahan says that about 10% of his staff are out right now with COVID-related illnesses.