A majority of the Cornwall Borough Council disagrees with Cornwall Borough Mayor Mark Thomas on whether a quarantine of all officers is the best way to protect the public, now that an unidentified borough police officer has tested positive for COVID-19.
That disagreement has led to the mayor overriding a council vote to quarantine the entire police force. Only the infected officer and a second officer who shared a police car have been quarantined.
In separate interviews on Monday, April 6, Mayor Thomas and Councilwoman Marie Tribioli confirmed that an emergency council meeting was held in the borough garage last Thursday morning, April 2, shortly after council learned that the officer had tested positive.
At the meeting, Tribioli said council voted four to two to quarantine all officers on the force for seven days, fearing that those officers, even if asymptomatic, could be infected and capable of spreading the disease to the public.
Councilman Al Brandt, Jr. and Council President John Karinch were the two votes against a department-wide quarantine, according to Borough Manager Cody Rhoads.
Brandt declined to comment when reached by telephone, other than to confirm that the Thusday meeting and vote took place. Karinch had not responded to requests for comment by publication time.
Several other council members contacted by LebTown either declined to comment on what happened at the Thursday meeting or referred questions to council president Karinch.
The mayor’s decision to go against council’s quarantine vote was made later that Thursday, after the police station and a police car had been disinfected by a Lancaster company.
“There was one officer who shared a patrol car that we know was around the exposed officer, and we quarantined that officer,” Thomas said. When asked if he was satisfied that no additional officers had been exposed to the infected officer, Thomas replied “correct.”
Thomas, Rhoads, and Tribioli all said that Borough attorney Josele Cleary of Lancaster law firm Morgan, Hallgren, Crosswell & Kane, P.C. advised them that, under Pennsylvania law, the mayor had the authority to reverse council, since his decision involved day-to-day police operations.
Tribioli said “[council] learned that we had an officer that tested positive for COVID and had been working in the police station and a police car with active symptoms. We felt we should quarantine the police department, and we settled on seven days.”
Tribioli told LebTown that the council majority decided to ask the State Police or other county police forces to temporarily cover the borough under the mutual aid agreement announced in March by Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf.
Thomas explained that his decision against a department-wide quarantine came down to balancing protection of the public from the virus against protection of the public from crime.
His decision to override council’s quarantine vote, Thomas said, was made only after he consulted with a doctor “who has patients battling coronavirus,” and with state Representative Frank Ryan (R-101). Thomas declined to identify the doctor.
Referring to the unidentified doctor, Thomas said “he assured me if you sanitize the office, the police cars, have everybody wear gloves all the time, have everybody wear masks all the time . . . if you’re doing all of those, you’ve done everything you can to protect the public.
Thomas added that Representative Ryan told him that he had spoken directly with an unidentified person at Wellspan Health who agreed with the doctor’s recommendations.
When asked why he didn’t ask other police departments to cover Cornwall under the mutual aid agreement while all of Cornwall officers were being quarantined, Thomas said that he had consulted with supervisors in two other townships, and they felt that outside police officers would not provide the level of policing that Cornwall officers could.
“Outside officers would not be able to patrol individual streets like our officers do,” Thomas said. “They would probably just respond once an incident is reported, and the response times would be too slow.”
“There’s a big difference between a State Police car sitting at a major intersection and our officers driving up and down neighborhood streets.”
Rhoads expects that minutes of last Thursday’s meeting will be made public, but not before council approves them at a meeting scheduled for Monday, April 13.
Mayor Thomas said on Tuesday, April 7, that the infected officer was recovering at home and doing well.
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