Lawrence Police Department employee tests positive for COVID-19; interim police chief in quarantine

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Aug. 4, 2020, a Lawrence Police Department patrol vehicle is pictured outside the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Story updated at 7:27 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18:

A Lawrence Police Department employee who recently attended a gathering with the interim police chief has tested positive for COVID-19, requiring the interim chief to quarantine.

The Journal-World learned of the situation through an email Interim Police Chief Anthony Brixius sent to Lawrence Police Department staff that was provided to the newspaper. City spokesman Porter Arneill subsequently confirmed that a police department employee tested positive for the virus this week, and though he did not confirm the content of the email he did say that the event mentioned in the email was not work-related.

The email from Brixius to police department staff states that the employee’s symptoms began Tuesday evening. Brixius says the employee had not been in either police building for many days prior to that but that he and “several others” have been quarantined for contact with the positive employee that occurred Saturday.

It was not clear from the email whether other Lawrence Police Department employees are among the people who are quarantining. Arneill did not say how many police department or other city employees were quarantining as a result of the gathering, but he did say the situation was not having any operational impact on the department.

“During the pandemic, it has been standard procedure for LPD (and other departments) to quarantine employees due to possible contact,” Arneill said in an email to the Journal-World. “This has not created operational problems for LPD (or other departments) in the past or currently.”

Arneill added that the city does not disclose medical information about its employees, but does share information about how the public might be affected when applicable.

Brixius states in the email that his contact with the employee was at an event in a venue space large enough to comfortably space the tables, where food/beverages were provided. He goes on to say that there were approximately 30 people at the event in total at various times, with typically about 20-25 people at any one time. He says the health department is involved and those in close contact have been quarantined.

“I realize I have a personal comfort level that is different than many during this pandemic,” Brixius wrote. “While the event size, spacing and set up were adequate for safety based on the standards of the health department, it is a good reminder to me that our actions and interactions may potentially endanger others.”

As it was described in the email, the gathering would not necessarily be against local health orders to deter the spread of COVID-19. Currently, health orders prohibit gatherings of 45 or more people where individuals in one location are unable to maintain 6 feet of distance with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity.

The email says the event was held outside the city, but other details of the event weren’t clear. Brixius in his letter to staff members said the event has caused him to be more mindful of needed precautions.

“While it is possible for any of us to be exposed even after taking all reasonable precautions, I know that I personally did not meet all of the recommended safety precautions and look to be more mindful of the effect my actions can have on all of you,” Brixius said in the email.

The Journal-World also asked the city whether the police department and the city at large have any policies, practices or guidelines for gatherings among staff related to the pandemic, so as to avoid any operational impact from a significant number of staff members needing to quarantine. Arneill said that considering the size of the city’s workforce, the city has had good success so far with very few cases, but as the pandemic continues, everyone needs to stay dedicated to the basics of masks, hand washing and social distancing.

“We encourage and expect our employees to follow the health department orders and guidelines just as we do the rest of our community members,” Arneill said. “We want our employees and their families to be safe and stay healthy and we need them to continue to provide essential services.”

Brixius did not immediately respond to an email from the Journal-World on Friday about the incident. This article will be updated with any response.


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