COVID-19 in Philly: All city police ordered to wear cloth masks

New Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By John N. Mitchell

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Police Department’s officers have been ordered to wear cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw made the announcement Wednesday morning that wearing the mask was mandatory for all members of the 6,500-member force.

“We started distributing them yesterday and then the guidelines got pushed out after the fact. The ideal situation is to be able to push out the guidelines first then distribute the equipment. Given what we’ve been dealing with, it hasn’t always been perfect,” Outlaw said.

Officers have been instructed to place masks on the faces of city residents whom they arrest.

The announcement came two days after the death of Lieutenant James Walker, 59, an officer in the traffic division who served the police department for 33 years. It is unknown if Walker contracted the coronavirus while working, Mayor Jim Kenney said.

Philadelphia city police lieutenant dies of COVID-19

Officers had been wearing the N95 mask, which is considered to be highly effective but less practical for police work. Outlaw described the new mask as a “very thin, cloth mask that is a step down,” from the the N95 mask.

It has been speculated but not confirmed that dozens of members of the Philadelphia Police Department have been infected by the coronavirus, which has been classified for weeks now by the World Health Organization as a global pandemic.

The city has declined to confirm the number of positive tests among its rank and file officers.

Later on Wednesday, City Managing Director Brian Abernathy reiterated that the city would not release the number of officers testing positive for coronavirus, adding that any number might be skewed because it was not possible to determine whether the virus had been contracted on or off duty.

Outlaw said that she had been tested for the coronavirus and that the results were negative. She also said that she and her administrative task were working at home.

John N. Mitchell is a columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared