When she took the call on April 1 at about 11 a.m. for an unattended death of an elderly person, there wasn’t anything particularly unusual about the circumstances.
But these are unusual times.
After arriving and talking to the family, she learned that the elderly man had been diagnosed with COVID-19. It was unknown whether that was his cause of death. But Westminster PD Officer Frani Echavarria did know she couldn’t go home to her husband and baby girl.
“That was a really hard situation,” says Echavarria, who has been at the agency for 3 1/2 years. “I didn’t see my daughter for a number of days and then my husband, I didn’t see my husband for a number of days. They had to support me from afar. I guess people don’t know how hard that is until you go through it.”
It was early on in the “new normal” the country has experienced since the declaration of COVID-19 as a worldwide pandemic. It was one of the first known exposures to the virus at the agency and testing was still a relatively new process. She immediately isolated herself in a hotel room until her test results came back.
“I ended up not testing positive,” Echavarria says. “I tested negative and I went home. It just gave me and my family peace of mind. My daughter is a brand-new baby and my mom would be in the category of people that would not be able to fight off COVID-19.”
Though she says she’s taken the pandemic very seriously since the beginning — following all the recommended social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines — it was still an eye-opening experience.
“Until you’re in that situation … I feel like people don’t realize how serious it is,” she says. “I went to work that day and I had no idea that I wasn’t going to be home for almost a week.”
The agency has been implementing a series of safety measures for how work is conducted both inside and outside the WPD building since early March. Patrol officers and dispatchers work in platoon shifts, meaning they work with the same partners to minimize potential for cross-contamination. Officers wear masks if they must enter a person’s home and when involving a death in a home, officers wear a mask, gloves and protective eyewear.
Echavarria knows how important these measures are now more than ever. She attributes her negative test results to following these safety protocols, and thinks it’s a good idea for officers to use them more regularly.
“We never really know what’s out in patrol,” she says. “Right now that’s the whole focus — the coronavirus — but even before this came out, there’s always reason why we wear PPE gear.”
Once back home, Echavarria’s life resumed to her routine of caring for her 10-month-old daughter, Camilla.
“I’ve always been proud to say I’m a police officer as my profession, but being a mom is a blessing,” she says. “I feel it was my true calling in being a mom. I think my daughter helped me come into my own. I feel like I’ve grown a lot and I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s definitely a balance.”
She learned about this kind of balance from her father, retired Garden Grove PD Sgt. Ron Echavarria.
“My dad inspired me a lot,” she says. “I always wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps.”
But the women in her life have also been instrumental in teaching her how to be a good mom.
“I’ve learned from my own mom … and a lot of family members who were moms or grandmas,” she says. “I’ve learned from them that being a mother is a selfless job. You put your family first. You take care of your family. You do your best to make sure your household is happy, healthy and comfortable. … My mom was a very strong, motherly role model for me.”
She hopes everyone remembers what their moms did for them this Mother’s Day — even if there’s no brunch or dinner to go along with it.
“That sucks that we can’t have that right now,” she says. “But hopefully families can maybe do a redo when things open up. … And don’t forget us. For every other mother out there, I just want to wish them a happy Mother’s Day.”