More than 1,000 police officers, firefighters and paramedics in the Los Angeles area were sick or quarantined at home Tuesday after testing positive for coronavirus, prompting further public safety concerns as the Omicron variant continues its rapid spread.
A spokesman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an “unprecedented increase” in cases that the mayor is focused on and working to mitigate – including by approving additional overtime funds to cover shifts for the sick.
More than 500 employees of the Los Angeles Police Department – including 416 sworn officers – were at home in quarantine on Jan. 1 after positive tests, the department said. In the last week alone, the department had seen 424 new cases, officials said.
The Los Angeles Fire Department had 201 employees out due to coronavirus as of Tuesday, while the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had 552 employees out, including 389 sworn deputies, officials said.
LA County health officials have reported delays in ambulance response to 911 calls, both due to sick emergency personnel and ambulances being forced to wait to relieve patients in congested hospitals. Across the state, more than 1,230 state prison employees were infected, as were 712 inmates, officials said.
The explosion of cases among frontline public security workers reflected a fear that has become a reality for officials who for more than a year have been trying to get such employees vaccinated against COVID-19 – not just for their safety and the safety of those they come into. direct contact with, but also to protect the city’s public security agencies at an operational level.
The more than 500 LAPD staff currently out there mark a significant increase from recent months and a significant loss of staff for a department of around 12,000.
Asked about the effects, LAPD chief Michel Moore said the number remained below the top of cases within the department in January 2021 and that the department has so far been able to meet the minimum manning requirements for patrolling.
He said that many of those who tested positive had been vaccinated and that most fortunately experienced mild or moderate symptoms.
Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said the department had not experienced any disruption to its “core services”.
“The department is ready to make adjustments to our staff, including redistribution of human resources in case it becomes necessary, but we are not at that time,” Spell said. “We continue to meet the necessary requirements and will ensure that Angelenos’ public security needs are met.”
Cheryl Getuiza, a LAFD spokeswoman, said the fire department had a series of “24-hour engine and truck closures” in place due to the reduction in staff.
The department “must, however, maintain adequate daily staffing to ensure that our ambulances and fire trucks are ready to respond at all times” and did so through overtime and other staffing movements, Getuiza said.
“It’s important to note that corporate closures do not equate to fire station closures,” she said. “Communities have the resources available and will continue to receive adequate coverage.”
Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas noted in a letter to LAFD staff on Tuesday the large number of sick employees and called on his workforce to be vaccinated.
“Because of this increase in numbers, I urge all members to be vaccinated, boosted, tested and adhere to all department protocols to minimize the spread,” Terrazas wrote.
Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Garcetti, said in a statement that keeping the city’s residents safe was Garcetti’s “top priority” and that the mayor was “focused on ensuring that the police and fire department have the resources they need to do so during this unprecedented increase in cases. “
Wollman said the mayor had “authorized additional overtime funds to keep police patrol hours up and a new rig to compensate for LAFD staff losses, and is committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure we have the fire and police resources,” we need a place all over the city. “
City and county officials first called for and then mandated staff to be vaccinated against coronavirus, as data showed the vaccines significantly reduced the rate of infection and the severity of symptoms among those infected.
However, a significant number of staff, and of police and firefighters, have refused to be vaccinated, and thousands are seeking religious or medical exemptions from the vaccination mandates and others are suing the city – claiming the vaccination mandate violated their rights.
As of December 23, about 21% of LAPD and 16% of LAFD remained unvaccinated, according to city data. Employees of the county sheriff’s department and of the state prison system have remained unvaccinated in even greater numbers.
Those who are unvaccinated and await decisions from the municipality on their requests for exemptions must be tested twice a week.
The omicron variant has shown high transmission rates and an ability to cause breakthrough cases, even in those who have been vaccinated, although vaccinated individuals generally have milder symptoms than those who have not been vaccinated, health officials say.
Officials still see vaccines – and booster shots – as the primary defense against the virus, and public safety leaders have continued to urge their employees to listen to science and get vaccinated.
Some department employees have taken up the same message – including some who have become ill in recent days despite being vaccinated.
On Monday, Steve Lurie, commander-in-chief of the LAPD’s risk management and legal affairs group, posted on Twitter that he was “down” with COVID-19 – which had left him “wiped out” despite being vaccinated, boosted and “basically healthy and in shape.”
“I can not imagine fighting it [without] the benefits of science and vaccines, ”wrote Lurie. “Please get vaccinated.”
LA County reported nearly 22,000 new cases Tuesday and nearly 2,000 admissions.
Times staff writers Emily Alpert Reyes and Dakota Smith contributed to this article.