COVID-19 was cause of death for 2 of every 3 NC law enforcement officers in last 2 years
Posted October 15, 2021 4:39 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2021 7:41 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — This year in North Carolina, 15 law enforcement officers have had line-of-duty deaths. Ten of them were from COVID-19.
The coronavirus is now the leading cause of death for police officers, sheriff's deputies and correctional officers, data from the national Officer Down database show.
Since January 2020, 21 law enforcement officers in North Carolina have died from COVID-19 – 68 percent of all officers statewide who have died in that time.
"It's heartbreaking," said Julie Swann, the head of North Carolina State University's Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. "The toll that this has taken on people every day and how they feel and how they're able to go about interactions every day and their job has certainly been significant."
Nationwide, the virus has claimed the lives of 473 law enforcement first responders since the beginning of last year. That's more than five times as many who died from gunfire, the previous top cause for work-related deaths, in that same time.
Despite that, vaccine hesitancy and mandate resistance remains among law enforcement.
"We don't have a high enough uptake of vaccine," said Swann, who is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevenion on virus modeling. "Some of these deaths could be could have been prevented, and some of tomorrow’s deaths could still be prevented."
Even though numbers of new infections are trending downward in North Carolina and nationally, she said she doesn't believe the pandemic is close to being over.
Law enforcement roles are public facing, so someone could inadvertently be spreading the virus among the general population, Swann said.
"If someone who is a first responder were to get COVID, and many times they could be asymptomatic, especially in the early days, then that does put people in the public at greater risk," she said.