El Paso County deputy's passing from COVID-19 considered 'line of duty' death; full police honors service expected

 Photo: El Paso County Sheriff's Office
Photo: El Paso County Sheriff's Office (KKTV)
Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 9:06 AM MDT
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The recent passing of an El Paso County sheriff's deputy due to COVID-19 has been ruled a line of duty death.

Deputy Jeff Hopkins lost his fight with the virus on April 1 at the age of 41.

"We're here to express the sheriff's office's profound sadness to let everyone know in our community that Deputy Jeff Hopkins, unexpectedly and while off-duty, passed away on April 1," said Sheriff Bill Elder during a short news conference at Centennial Hall on April 2.

Hopkins had been having symptoms for about seven to 10 days prior to his death and did not have any known underlying conditions. He was tested for COVID-19 on March 31 and the results came back positive the morning after his passing.

Because of the anonymity around most who have died from the virus, county medical officials said Hopkins, as a public servant, had now unwittingly become the first face of the disease for El Paso County.

"Deputy Hopkins is the first face and name of the casualties within our community," said Susan Wheelan with El Paso County Board of Health.

Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement after Hopkins' death.

“My condolences go out to Deputy Hopkins’ family. Deputy Hopkins spent his life serving his community and working to make our state a better place. This is an incredibly difficult time for our state, and even more so for those who have lost a loved one. Each tragic death from coronavirus is a stark reminder of why we need to stay at home. We can’t thank our first responders and law enforcement enough for serving on the front lines, demonstrating in this crisis and every day their dedication and sacrifice."

Hopkins had worked for the sheriff's office for nearly 20 years, wearing a number of hats during that time including patrol division, floor security, and arrest control instructor. He was working intake and release at the El Paso County jail at the time of his death.

It was his time at that final job that resulted in his contracting and eventually dying from the virus, El Paso County Public Health determined. Tuesday, nearly two weeks following Hopkins' death, the sheriff's office released a brief statement from Drs. Johnson and Leon Kelly over the health department's findings.

"The epidemiologic investigation performed by the El Paso County Public Health Department determined medically that his infection was more likely than not due to exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus while in the line of duty at the Criminal Justice Center acting as an intake and release deputy. Investigation by the El Paso County Public Health Epidemiology Division has identified that Deputy Hopkins had direct contact during his work shift with other sheriff office employee(s) who were symptomatic and subsequently had laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 disease. ... The medical timeline based on known coinciding shift(s) of COVID-19 positive deputy(s) as well as the onset and progression of Deputy Hopkins’s symptoms is entirely consistent with him obtaining the exposure and consequent infection while performing his official duties."

The official cause of death was found by the county coroner to be respiratory arrest due to COVID-19.

The sheriff's office said they intended to give Hopkins a full police honors service once the all-clear was given to do so.

"A first responder, a dedicated servant... his death is a reminder of the risk carried by those who serve," Wheelan said.

Hopkins leaves behind his wife and parents.

People interested in supporting Hopkins' family can donate through the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Foundation