In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Keven Biagioni had a problem.
A member of the RCMP’s Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment, part of Biagioni’s job is facing the unknown. When he responds to a call at a residence, he’s never 100 per cent certain what danger awaits on the other side of the door. Getting punched or kicked or facing someone with a weapon used to be the big concerns, but sometime around early February knives and guns were replaced by a bigger worry.
In coronavirus, Biagioni and hundreds of his RCMP colleagues were suddenly confronted with a hazard they couldn’t even see.
Officers accept danger as part of the work, knowing that if they are physically harmed in the line of duty, at least their loved ones are safe.
COVID-19 changed that.
They still had to charge into the unknown, but now it was possible to bring the danger home with them.
“That was probably harder than any other part of the day-to-day job, knowing that a high percentage of people were asymptomatic (producing or showing no symptoms),” Biagioni said. “A lot of us were showering post-shift at work, trying to decontaminate as best as we could. We were taking off our uniform, storing it in a garbage bag, sealing it up and making sure we were washing it on its own.
“As we moved through COVID-19, were were grateful that our detachment made dry cleaning an option for our members, so we didn’t have to take our stuff home. That was another layer of protection for our families when we didn’t know the virus was transmitted.”
Being cautious was top of mind for Biagioni, a husband and a father of a two-year-old and a four-year-old. His younger child had lung issues very early in life, developing a vulnerability to things like pneumonia and bronchitis. He was in the ‘compromised’ category.
With his son’s safety in mind, Biagioni and his wife took normal precautions one big step further.
The agonizing decision was made for him to stay away.
“If my son got it, he’d be at high risk of needing to go to the hospital, and probably to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), so if I had any inkling at all that I was around somebody with COVID-19, there was no going home,” he said. “When the pandemic started to gain ground, I found another place to stay for five or six weeks. Honestly, it was a no-brainer. My wife and I said, ‘We’ve got to do this. It’s not forever. It’s just for right now.’”
Telling your children you’re going to be living somewhere else for a while is a tough conversation to have. While his two-year-old was too busy being a two-year-old to care, Biagioni and his wife talked to his other child.
“We explained it as ‘the sickness,’” he said. “My daughter knows about hospitals and doctors and we told her, ‘The sickness is hurting people and we don’t want it to come into our home and hurt us.’”
The officer did many things to stay connected during his self-imposed exile, talking to his kids through windows and such.
But FaceTiming was the best.
They video called in the morning, and at lunchtime, and at bedtime, and any other time something notable was happening.
Without FaceTiming, and the ability to see their faces, it would have been a lot tougher.
“Living away from your family can be lonely and tiring, especially when you get to your four days off because you’d normally be doing family stuff,” Biagioni said. “You’ve got to mentally focus on getting through it, knowing it’s not going to last forever and you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
After six weeks of watching the daily COVID-19 cases drop in B.C., Biagioni and his wife recently decided he could come back home. But he remains vigilant.
“If there’s any inkling that anything’s happened, we can pull back again and know we have safeguards in place,” he said.
What’s helped Biagioni and other RCMP officers during these tumultuous times is the response from the public.
While health care workers are getting a ton of justified love, Biagioni also senses increased appreciation for police who are doing their best to achieve two hugely important goals; keep their communities safe and keep their families safe.
“We hear the banging of the pots and pans every night, and we know a lot of that is for the doctors and nurses who are taking the brunt of this in the hospitals,” Biagioni said. “But when we see the hearts in the windows, we take that for us too as first responders. And when we get cards and stuff in the office thanking us for what we’re doing, we appreciate the appreciation.”
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