WINCHESTER — The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office recently had an outbreak of COVID-19 that led to 16 deputies being quarantined.
Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland said on Friday that on or around June 9, a Sheriff’s Office deputy attended a family gathering. When he came back to work, he was assigned to work with a new recruit. The deputy who went to the gathering later found out he had contracted the coronavirus.
Several deputies who had contact with the infected deputy were quarantined and tested, Millholland said. For several weeks in June, the Sheriff’s Office was short 16 deputies, who had to self-quarantine. This included eight deputies who were positive with symptoms, two who were asymptomatic positives and six who were quarantined because of close contact with a positive case.
Of the 16 who were tested and quarantined, only one is still not at work. Millholland said the Sheriff’s Office is now “back to normal.”
He said all the personnel in the Sheriff’s Office have followed quarantine guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health.
“It has been difficult to move personnel around, but for the safety of staff and users of the Public Safety Building, we made adjustments,” Millholland said.
The Sheriff’s Office has more than 140 sworn personnel. Millholland told The Star in April that he feels a need to protect the county’s first responders, saying, “it doesn’t matter what part of public safety you are a part of, every day you put yourself in harm’s way.”
Pending national legislation may benefit law enforcement who contract the coronavirus. The Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act, introduced and passed in the U..S. Senate, would permit the families of first responders who die or are permanently and totally disabled as a result of COVID-19 to receive the same federal benefits extended to first responders, or their survivors, killed or injured in the line of duty. The bill still has yet to be voted on in the House of Representatives. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general urging Congress to pass the legislation.
“In the middle of a deadly pandemic, our first responders do not have the luxury of staying home and out of harm’s way. Instead they continue to respond to emergencies, oftentimes with the high risk of walking into a contaminated area and potentially contracting COVID-19,” Herring said in a news release. “These brave men and women have put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Virginians and they deserve to receive the same benefits as other first responders who have been killed, injured or become disabled in the line of duty.”
Millholland also supports the passage of the SAFR Act, which would establish a temporary presumption that an officer contracted COVID-19 while on duty if he or she had been diagnosed within 45 days of their last shift.
“We have never seen COVID-19 and all of the issues that have associated with it,” Millholland said in an email to The Star. “Our country has shut down in many places. Lives have been changed. The way we do business has also. It’s not the same world people are used to. When you contract the disease while working, as they say, the presumption is important. Fifty-one attorney generals have signed on to agree that it is needed. I agree that we need to do something.”
In May, Herring issued an official advisory opinion stating that first responders who contract COVID-19 from exposure while at work may be compensated under the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Act. Herring said, “It is my opinion that workers’ compensation is available for covered first responders who become ill from work-related exposures.” He also concluded that first responders who die from exposure to COVID-19 while in the line of duty could qualify for Line of Duty Act benefits “if they meet eligibility criteria.”