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Nassau police union wants virus testing for all uniformed cops

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On Tuesday, Nassau County Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott asked for certain safety precautions be put in place to protect Nassau police officers from the coronavirus. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

The president of Nassau County’s largest police union Tuesday urged Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder to provide a mobile testing site and free COVID-19 tests to all of the department's uniformed officers in an effort to stop the spread of the pandemic within the ranks.

James McDermott, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, said the department should also expand its testing to include officers who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus. The department has so far only arranged for testing of symptomatic officers, McDermott said.

County officials announced Monday it would begin testing the county’s first responders, including police officers, correction officers and police medics, as early as Wednesday. The county ordered 20,000 finger-prick test kits, which provide results in just 15 minutes, from Melville-based medical supplier Henry Schein Inc. at a cost of $660,000, county officials said. 

“I’m thinking that now that you have 20,000-plus tests and there’s only 2,500 police officers and already a lot of them have been tested, why not test everybody else just to be on the safe side?” McDermott said in a phone interview.

McDermott said he has received no timeline on when testing will begin. Ryder, in an email statement, said delivery of the tests is expected Wednesday, but final approvals from the state health department and FDA were still to come. 

Ryder shot down the idea of a mobile testing site for officers, saying department protocol requires officers who are symptomatic to contact the department's Medical Administrative Office, which will "fast track" tests at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. 

"We are taking every precaution for all of our sworn and civilian members to ensure their health and well being, which is our number one priority," Ryder said in an email. "The best way to test is in a controlled environment which is at NUMC and that is why we will not utilize a mobile test site." 

Asked if nonsymptomatic officers can be tested, given the large number of rapid test kits being acquired by the county, Ryder said only: "Only symptomatic patients can be tested." 

As of Tuesday, 99 sworn and 18 civilian employees had tested positive, Ryder said. In total, 184 employees, including 148 officers and 36 civilians, have been quarantined due to exposure to the virus and 115 have been cleared to return to work, Ryder said. 

McDermott, in a letter to Ryder that he released to reporters Tuesday, said a mobile testing site for officers is "crucial" to stem further spread of the virus so any officer who tests positive won't continue to work. 

"The potential to increase infections — not just among our members but the public at large — will increase significantly if members continue to work post-infection," said McDermott.

McDermott, who said he had not yet received a response to his five-page letter, also called on Ryder to implement written protocols dealing with coronavirus and to permit officers in nonessential roles and high-risk due to preexisting medical conditions telecommute or work from a remote location. 

Although police officials in both Suffolk and Nassau have reported substantial drops in crime since the governor's directive for the public to stay home last month, McDermott said officers are still on the front lines, responding to calls. 

“There’s still crime, police officers are still making arrests," said McDermott, speaking outside PBA headquarters in Mineola.  "You even have people resisting arrest sometimes, and you’re wrestling these people who might be infected.”

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