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Inside The Plano Police Department's Recovery From Its COVID-19 Outbreak

Ten minutes. That’s all it took for David Tilley to face what could have been a fight for his life. As the public information officer for the Plano Police department, he was no stranger to handling crises.

Ten minutes. That’s all it took for David Tilley to face what could have been a fight for his life. As the public information officer for the Plano Police department, he was no stranger to handling crises. But he’d never had imagined he’d find himself part of the 20 percent infected and showing symptoms of COVID-19. 

He wasn’t alone. Three other Plano police officers had tested positive for it, and several others were sheltered in place until the 14-day all clear passed. Detectives were helping out patrol, but many worry about catching the virus and bringing it home to loved ones. 

It’s a concern shared by other officers in North Texas. As of this writing, eight Dallas police officers have contracted the virus. One recovered and warned others in a April 9 WFAA report to stay home or risk infecting others with a virus that many don’t know they have. President Donald Trump called it the “invisible enemy,” and it’s been a difficult one for officials to track.

When word spread that several Plano officers had contracted the virus, the community embraced the department from a safe distance. Businesses, churches, and people who Tilley says “flew under the radar” donated sorely needed items such as hand sanitizer, masks, and water. It reminded Tilley of the community’s response to the July 7th, 2016 mass shooting that left five Dallas police officers dead. Tilley has been sharing the outpouring of support in photos on Facebook.

The latest show of support came from St. Andrews Methodist Church’s Helping Hands ministry and Dee Lincoln Prime, an upscale steakhouse and sushi bar at the Star in Frisco. The owner Dee Lincoln paid her workers to prepare 90 box lunches, and Helping Hands ministry delivered the lunches to the officers Thursday afternoon. 

“It’s something that just makes you feel really good,” Tilley says. “It is a negative environment we’re living in right now, especially patrol officers worrying if they are going to contract this and risk their families and to know that the people really appreciate everything.”

This week, Helping Hands ministry is partnering with Jeff Bergus from Lockhart Smokehouse in Plano and taking 80 lunch boxes to the ER staff at Plano Medical Center.

Tilley was under home quarantine when he helped coordinate the ministry’s lunch delivery to the police department. There has been some confusion on whether we should call it a lock down, a quarantine, or a shelter-in-place request. But there was no doubt that Tilley and his family were under a quarantine house arrest. He lives in Garland with his family, and he says Garland officials are not messing around when it comes to COVID-19. 

The best Tilley can figure, COVID-19 struck the Plano Police Department in late March when a couple of officers returned home from a recruiting trip to New York. They’d been there only for a couple of days, and only one of them had unknowingly contracted the virus. Tilley’s coworker in the public information office picked him up from the airport and went to lunch with him. Like the officer’s co-traveler, she never developed symptoms. 

The officer had been in Tilley’s office for about 10 minutes on a Friday. Tilley recalls that they stood about four or five feet apart. The officer began feeling cold-like symptoms the next day. He eventually tested positive for COVID-19. After the New York trip, he’d been feeling fine when he returned to work, Plano Police Chief Ed Drain told Fox 4 news in a May 20 report.

Tilley first developed symptoms 10 days after exposure. At 57, he was the oldest of the officers to contract it and in the higher risk age group for developing serious symptoms. But like the other officers who tested positive, he had only a low grade temperature and cold-like symptoms. He calls it mild, and is thankful that his family didn’t catch it. He was already under quarantine before he developed symptoms. 

Tilley’s wife treated his symptoms with NyQuil and Tylenol. He went to sleep and woke up the next day feeling better. “Had all this stuff not been going on, I would have gone to work,” he says.

Though Tilley’s symptoms were mild, he says Garland’s health department’s response wasn’t. Everybody in Tilley’s household was placed in house confinement for 14 days. They couldn’t leave, not even to go to the grocery store. If they needed to go to the doctor, Tilley says they had to notify the health department. 

“They aren’t playing around,” he says. 

Tilley was somewhat luckier than most people. His sister-in-law is an epidemiologist in Oregon, and forewarned them that COVID-19 was coming their way. “You better start preparing because it is going to hit your area,” he recalls her telling them. Tilley’s wife made three separate trips to the grocery store, stocking up on canned goods and toilet paper. “That was our saving grace,” Tilley says. 

Yet, the Tilleys weren’t alone in their fight, and the outpouring of support was comparable to what the Plano Police Department and other North Texas police departments have been experiencing. Tilley says the police association reached out and offered to take care of any grocery runs they needed. He’s also had people from the police department checking on them. 

The other officers who tested positive have already received the all clear to return to work. Tilley says he believes he is the only one who’s tested positive still in quarantine. He recently tested negative but needs one more negative test to return to the office. 

“[The virus] really wasn’t bad,” Tilley says. 

Tilley wasn’t surprised by the community’s outpouring of support because he says Plano has always been a tight-knit community. It was on full display Thursday night when the police and Plano Fire-Rescue showed up at Medical City Plano and rallied for healthcare workers. Red and blue lights flashed in the night as they showed their support and appreciation. Someone was even playing the bagpipes. 

“It was completely amazing to see this coming together,” Tilley says. “That has been the mantra. We can beat this but we have to beat it together. We all have to cooperate and stay at home, flattening the curve and reducing the spread.” 

For more information about COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure