Answering the Call

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Source: C. Ken Williams, MS, JD, AAFS Treasurer

An email blast was sent to the entire AAFS Membership on 3/31/20 requesting member input on the needs of the nation’s crime labs, Medical Examiner/Coroner offices (ME/C) and medicolegal death investigators as we navigate the COVID-19 crisis as a community. The Coronavirus 3 bill, S.3548 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was passed to help secure funding for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE), critical supplies, and other medical gear. The Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO) reached out to its member organizations to determine the needs of the nation’s crime labs, death investigators, and the ME/C in order to meet the demands created by the COVID-19 crisis. Within a 26-hour period, the 6,000+ members of the AAFS answered the call by submitting over 100 email responses to help identify the needs of the forensic community.*

Attempts are being made across the globe to slow the spread of the virus through efforts such as social distancing, self-isolation, the use of PPE, and frequent handwashing. As we continue to do our part to “flatten the curve,” the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases tragically continues to increase along with the number of COVID-19 related fatalities. The strain placed on first-line responders, law enforcement personnel, and health care providers is well known, publicly discussed, and understood. Those individuals are certainly in our thoughts as they continue to risk their lives on a daily basis for the care and comfort of so many others. The need for PPE and adequate resources is real and our gratitude cannot be expressed enough!

Less often considered during this pandemic is the strain placed on the forensic community. Although stay-at-home orders are in effect, many forensic services are considered essential. As a result, many businesses and offices remain open to provide the much-needed services. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, those services are now provided through telework and reduced staffing. Teleworking may be a suitable alternative in the provision of some services, but the lack of the appropriate IT infrastructure makes the alternative rather difficult. Reduced staffing is not without its problems either. For starters, personnel are often fatigued from working longer shifts. Additionally, those called to report may lack the appropriate PPE due to the need to supply the law enforcement personnel and healthcare professionals on the front lines. The shortage in PPE presents health concerns for the death investigators and medical examiners called upon to respond to COVID-19 related deaths. The shortage poses a different risk for those in the crime laboratories. Even with the global lockdowns, crimes are still being committed and laboratory backlogs continue to climb.  Without the appropriate PPE, it is extremely difficult to ensure the integrity of the evidence during the analysis process.

The needs shared by so many of you were compiled and forwarded to the CFSO to aide in their advocacy efforts. The compiled list will be shared with the membership on the AAFS COVID-19 Resource Page currently under construction. You answered the call when your input was needed. Now the AAFS will do the same. The page will serve as a site for resources to help us navigate this pandemic as a community. Stay tuned and stay safe!

*Please note: The AAFS request served as a needs assessment for the forensic community. The AAFS is not in a position to provide the items/supplies requested. The compiled list of needs was submitted to the CFSO on April 1, 2020.