COVID was the single highest cause of law enforcement deaths in first half of 2021, data shows
GLENDALE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- According to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund's (NLEMF) mid-year report, COVID-19 related fatalities are the single highest cause of law enforcement deaths occurring in the first six months of 2021.
"With some 71 officers dying as a result of contracting the disease while executing official duties, the 71 officers represent a decrease of 7% compared to the 76 officers who died of COVID-19 related causes during the first half of last year," the report concluded in June 2021.
Many times officers and other first responders are working under emergency circumstances that don’t allow for health screenings of the people they interact with. Megan Gussick, an EMS physician with UW Health, says these environments increase their risk of exposure.
"This includes being in large crowds and...potentially having close interactions with people," said Gussick. "And this means even having the appropriate PPE you can have an exposure, so they’re absolutely at a higher risk of contracting COVID during some of these interactions."
North Shore Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan Tyk, says the risk faced on the job is growing.
"We are sort of trying to balance the response to the pandemic and our new normal, which is mask wearing on all of our EMS calls and a much more stringent decontamination protocol," said Chief Tyk.
Every call with a suspected COVID patient, the department uses an electronic charged sprayer that uses hydrogen peroxide to clean every surface. They also use UV light technology to kill the virus on surfaces. These measures are also taken once a week regardless of the call.
“You never want to get complacent so it’s always in the back of your mind... Like I said, it’s the new normal," said Tyk.
It's a statistic that hits closer to home after an officer from the Fond Du Lac Police Department died from complications with the virus. Officer Joseph Kurer was just 26-year-old.
"It makes you hug your family a little bit tighter when you get home at night," said Tyk.
UW Health works with emergency responders in Madison to give them real-world simulations and training.
Gussick says that training has been more valuable during the pandemic.
"Our job is trying to minimize and protect them as best we can," said Gussick.