Philadelphia police officers instructed to wear new cloth masks amid COVID-19 pandemic

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia police officers are being provided with cloth masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Tuesday.

"Cloth/washable masks are being distributed throughout the Department. The purpose of providing these masks is to help prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus among our co-workers. Many who have the virus have no signs or symptoms. Cloth masks help prevent spreading the virus from people who feel otherwise healthy," read a portion of a memo obtained by Action News.

"It's safer. It's the right think to do. We just lost a lieutenant and we're having a whole lot of difficulty dealing with that," says officer Robin Robinson, of the 9th district.

All employees are being asked to wear cloth masks at all times while on duty.

"If calls can be handled outside were asking that people do that," said Outlaw. "Absolutely when making an arrest or processing prisoners, they are in full PPE."

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 is also stepping in, procuring a supply of N95 face masks to distribute to everyone in uniform.

"That's enough for everyone to have one mask, 7,0000 to 10,000. We'll have extra as we get more. Tomorrow we'll hand out sanitizer," said FOP President John McNesby.

Action News also obtained the Department's new guidance on arresting and transporting prisoners which states that immediately after any arrest, officers should place a cloth, paper or other non-N95 mask over the prisoner's mouth and nose.

Barring exigent circumstances, officers should sanitize hands and put on full protective equipment (PPE) before transporting any prisoner.

All prisoners will be screened for COVID-19 exposure prior to entering any police facility.

The new policies come as coronavirus cases rise within the department, including the death of Lt. James Walker. The 32-year Philadelphia police veteran is the city's first employee to die from the coronavirus.

While neither the city nor the police department will confirm, Action News has learned that as of April 5, 107 officers are being evaluated for COVID-19, while 45 officers have been diagnosed.

"We're going to continue the social distancing, wearing the masks, using hand sanitizer, everything. And spraying Lysol before you get in the car, before you get started," said Robinson.

When asked about the need for reinforcement because of coronavirus related call outs, Outlaw said the department is not in need of back-up.

"I don't have any concerns at this time. The number of people we have out is extremely low percent. It's less than 1% not even half of a percent," said Outlaw.