After a janitor who worked at a Sodo office park that houses various law-enforcement offices tested positive this month for the novel coronavirus, Seattle police reportedly ordered all employees who were potentially exposed to get screened by a doctor.
But the same didn’t happen with the staff of the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, which operates out of the same facilities. Seattle police officers temporarily left the Park 90/5 office park on Airport Way South when it closed down for a deep cleaning Tuesday, according to sources and police communications disclosed to The Seattle Times. But the State Patrol’s lab workers kept working.
Supervisors informed Crime Lab employees “we were not at risk and to move forward with work as usual. The building was deep cleaned and life moved on,” one lab employee who asked not to be identified wrote in an email to The Times.
But some lab workers think the State Patrol’s response was inadequate and they’re worried about their exposure risks, the employee said.
“(M)any employees are concerned as there are those of us who are immunocompromised and senior leadership doesn’t seem to think there is even a possibility that we should self quarentine (sic).”
State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Darren Wright said Friday that because “the crime lab serves a critical function” in providing forensics work for law-enforcement agencies across Washington, it can’t simply cease operations. He added the lab’s employees didn’t face the same level of potential exposure from the infected janitor that Seattle police employees did.
“Part of the difference of what’s done by contract cleaners on the SPD side (of the building) and our side is that the janitors only come into the Crime Lab to empty the trash,” Wright said. “They don’t really touch anything.”
Lab workers already are “constantly cleaning their own work places” with alcohol solutions while wearing gloves, Wright added, “to ensure that the scientific work they’re doing isn’t compromised.”
Crime Lab managers have informed employees that if anyone is concerned about potential coronavirus exposure, they can take sick or vacation leave, Wright said. Certain employees also can work remotely when feasible, he added.
The janitor assigned to the office park was sent home sick March 12. Five days later, Seattle police commanders sent out a special order commanding “any police personnel who had contact” with the janitor between March 3 and March 13 to report to the police firing range “for medical screening,” according to department communications disclosed to The Times.
Two sources with the Police Department said five officers have since been self-quarantined as a result of the possible exposure.
Crime Lab Commander Gene Lawrence, in an email sent Tuesday to his staff that also was disclosed to The Times, detailed paid time off and remote work options for concerned employees, and noted “other steps have been taken to reduce the risk of exposure.” Those include additional cleanings of common areas and closing “public access to WSP facilities” to everyone except “authorized visitors,” the email said.
“Of course no plan is perfect, and no measures can completely eliminate exposure risks,” Lawrence’s email added. “But we can work hard to reduce the risk. I ask that you stop and consider that, even in the face of catastrophe and disaster, state services must continue. We provide a vital public safety function, and we must continue to provide this service for the good of the citizens of Washington.”
But such sentiments provide little solace to worried workers, the lab employee wrote to The Times.
“(T)he safety and concerns of vulnerable employees also needs to be at least considered. SPD went above and beyond by bringing in a medical professional. All we got was a CDC flow chart saying we probably are safe.”