Last month, when the spread of COVID-19 gained the full attention of the United States and was officially deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) made significant adjustments to respond to the unique security needs of the institutions it serves — UTHealth and MD Anderson.
With a primary goal of keeping patients, faculty, staff and visitors to these institutions safe, UT Police implemented heightened security procedures and assisted in efforts to screen anyone who MD Anderson buildings for high fever — an early symptom of COVID-19.
UT Police Captain Doran Preacher said that one of the first steps taken by the department was to educate the team on the risks COVID-19 poses to the community. When institutional leadership moved to restrict entry points to a few key locations, UT Police was able to adjust public safety officer posts to facilitate this change in access points and to ensure compliance with the safety measures.
“This was necessary so that we could better secure the area and allow medical staff to identify individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19, in a safe and orderly fashion, before they were able to enter the facility,” said Preacher. “As the pandemic worsened, the decision was made to restrict all visitors in an effort to further protect our vulnerable population and our employees.”
Currently, UT Police public safety officers are stationed at every open entrance and every COVID-related high security point.
“Public safety officers are conducting focused patrols throughout the institution to protect mission critical personal protective equipment (PPE) stores, restricted access areas and are called to assist with the safe transport of suspected COVID-19 cases,” said Preacher. “They are doing all of this in addition to their traditional day-to-day service offerings.”
Hospitals and other long-term care facilities treat individuals who are at highest risk of contracting a severe illness like COVID-19. For COVID-19, high-risk individuals include people over the age of 65, those with asthma, lung disease or heart conditions, and those who are immunocompromised such as patients receiving cancer treatment. Yet many other are also falling ill in this pandemic, including young, otherwise healthy people.
Preacher said that in addition to the work of its public safety officers, the department’s police officers also are assisting at the employee access portals, directing traffic at pedestrian/vehicle choke points created by the restricted access entry locations, patrolling restricted access buildings to ensure unauthorized individuals are not present and responding to routine emergencies, and are continuing to respond to calls for law enforcement service.
“Crime and traditional requests for law enforcement services do not cease just because of COVID-19,” said Preacher. “It is times like this when our caring, compassionate team of professionals shine brightest and truly embody our core values and the pursuit of our shared purpose of prevention, preparedness and protection of our community.”
To keep up with the nationwide request to practice social distancing, a public health practice that helps reduce the spread of infections by maintaining at least a 6-foot distance between oneself and others, UT Police complies by using occupational distancing during roll calls and holding meetings via conference calls to prevent the gathering of more than five at any one time. Most recently and in response to enhanced institutional measures in keeping with changing conditions of the pandemic, the department began wearing PPE at all times while on duty.