Law enforcement union reignites call for COVID-19 to be declared a ‘presumptive illness’

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas is hosting a series of events this week, calling for COVID-19 to be declared a presumptive illness.

CLEAT began asking Gov. Greg Abbott to make it a presumptive illness in the spring, but, after 39 peace officers have died of COVID-19, they’re reigniting their request.

“It should be presumed that they contracted the illness in the line of duty. Currently, as it stands, an officer would have to prove that if it was questioned, which it has been in some of these cases,” CLEAT Public Affairs Coordinator Jennifer Szimanski explained, “They go to work every day they answer every call, and they should be covered if they are to contract the illness.”

The Governor issued an executive order in the spring that covers first responders’ medical bills, but CLEAT said the families of the officers need more.

“COVID is taking the lives of police officers, detention officers, correctional officers across the state the same way that an officer killed in the line of duty with a firearm or due to a fleet accident or other manner. We’re asking that they be given the same recognition, and that the state provide for their families,” CLEAT General Counsel Bob Leonard explained.

Rynda Scholwinski’s husband, Raymond, passed away in May after she says he contracted COVID-19. He was a sergeant with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

“He was eligible for retirement, and just couldn’t, just wasn’t ready to hang his guns up,” she said, “He had been with Harris County full-time for 26 years.”

Rynda said she can’t imagine asking a family to prove their loved one contracted COVID-19 on the job.

“I don’t believe that that these families going through mourning and just total devastation in their lives should have to be proving that they know that their loved one got COVID at work,” Rynda explained.

CLEAT said there’s funding already in place for other illnesses that would cover this addition, but it’s not clear if there would be enough going forward, given the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19.

We have reached out to the Governor’s office for comment, but have not yet heard back.

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