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NYPD absences spike as police call in sick amid coronavirus pandemic

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The New York City Police Department is seeing a huge spike in absences, even as it has been tasked with helping enforce coronavirus social distancing rules. On Friday, 4,111 officers called in sick, accounting for more than 11% of the force. Typically, about 3% of the force is out sick, New York City police commissioner Dermot Shea told CBS News' David Begnaud.

The NYPD also announced its first coronavirus death on Thursday: Dennis Dickson, a department janitor, died from complications of the disease, Shea said.

New York has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., with more than 44,000 confirmed cases statewide, including over 25,000 in New York City, to date. 

As of Friday, 512 NYPD personnel have tested positive for the virus, up from 351 on Thursday and 236 on Wednesday. Those numbers include uniformed officers and non-sworn personnel who work for the police department. Of the 512 who have tested positive, 442 are uniformed officers. 

Speaking to CBS News' David Begnaud earlier Friday, Shea said the number was rapidly changing. "If I told you the number I had a couple of hours ago, I'd be telling you a bad number," Shea said. 

An NYPD traffic officer wearing personal protective equipment stands at a barricade after the city closed down a section of Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn due to COVID-19 concerns, on Friday, March 27, 2020. AP Photo/John Minchillo

Though most of the absent employees have not tested positive, the coronavirus outbreak is the driving force behind the spike, Shea said in a video posted to Twitter. The NYPD did not answer questions from CBS News as to whether the other absent employees were quarantining after exposure, showing symptoms of coronavirus, or caring for others impacted by the virus.

The department's top counterterrorism official, Deputy Commissioner John Miller, was hospitalized Thursday after experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and was awaiting test results. (Miller worked for CBS News before rejoining the NYPD in 2013.)

The employee who died, Dennis Dickson, worked for the department since 2006 and once spent 17 straight days cleaning up police headquarters after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The NYPD said Dickson was "again on the front lines" during the coronavirus pandemic, cleaning and disinfecting the department's headquarters.

"He's been keeping the NYPD safe, so our officers can keep you safe," Shea said in a Twitter video.

NYPD custodian Dennis C. Dickson, third from left, pictured in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy cleanup. Dickson died of coronavirus complications Thursday. NYPD

Shea told Begnaud that officers who are showing symptoms are being told to stay home. Those who have been exposed to the virus but have not displayed symptoms are having their cases reviewed individually by a panel that includes doctors, but in many cases are being asked to come to work, Shea said.

Shea said on Twitter that the NYPD is working to backfill patrol and detective positions and encouraged personnel to be ready to help.

"Have your uniform ready, be ready to pick up the slack for the man or woman next to you that's out sick, because we're going to need you to step in until they come back," Shea said.

Shea said two employees, one civilian and one officer who had tested positive and recovered, were due to return to work Friday.

"Certainly, these are unprecedented times," Shea told Begnaud. "...The safety of the members of the NYPD is really first and foremost, them and their families, but then that quickly extends out to 8.6 million people. So let's get through this, let's get through this together."

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