Quarantine for COVID stretches Basalt Police Department thin

Staff returning to full strength after six officers temporarily shelved

The Basalt Police Department was stretched thin over the past 10 days filling all patrol shifts after 75 percent of its officers were in quarantine for possible exposure to COVID-19.

Only one officer has tested positive for the virus but others had to take precautions because of possible exposure, Police Chief Greg Knot said Monday.

“We had one officer test positive for COVID,” he said. “Four other officers were deemed to be in close contact with him at work.”

The problem arose Friday, Jan. 8, when there was crossover time between officers finishing the weekday shift and those reporting for weekend shifts. The officers were in the police station in Basalt at the same time for about one hour. An officer became ill the next day and tested positive for COVID-19.

The department consulted with public health officials and determined that the four other officers needed to quarantine for 10 days out of an abundance of caution. None of those officers has become ill, Knott said.

However, an officer who wasn’t involved in the workplace gathering exhibited signs of illness and was also placed in quarantine, Knott said. It is unknown if that officer had COVID-19 or simply the cold or flu.

The incident demonstrates the challenges of the pandemic for first responders in small communities as well as any business with a small staff. Only two officers were initially able to continue duty, in addition to Lt. Aaron Munch and Knott. Knott had advance plans that took him out of state during most of the period.

One officer was allowed by public health officials to report back to duty before the entire quarantine period was up because he previously had COVID-19, Knott said.

The department was nine days into the quarantine Monday. “They start coming back (Tuesday),” Knott said.

The short-staffed department had the comfort of knowing they could get by with a little help from their friends, if need be. The four law enforcement agencies in the upper Roaring Fork Valley have a mutual aid pact to provide officers to any agency in need during the pandemic.

The pact was made among the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt. Snowmass Village Police Chief Brian Olson organized the pact. It hasn’t been needed since the pandemic struck in March, although some agencies were hit early and now Basalt came close to needing helping hands, Olson said.

Knott said it is unknown if the Basalt officer who tested positive was infected at work or elsewhere.

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