Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday sought to quell concerns over first responder staffing shortages connected to the COVID-19 surge that has led to slight delays in ambulance response times.
As of Wednesday, 505 L.A. Police Department officers and 299 L.A. Fire Department employees were at home quarantining because of COVID-19, Garcetti said during a media briefing.
“These are big numbers, numbers that are reflecting the staffing challenges that all of us face,” Garcetti added.
Despite this, the mayor said both LAPD and LAFD have maintained staffing levels that are needed to keep residents safe, adding that he has authorized additional overtime funds to help cover for those who are out sick.
“Los Angeles is safe,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said. “The efforts of our contingency planning to ensure that we have sufficient staffing so that our patrol units are available to handle not just emergency calls, but urgent and routine calls, is present.”
The chief said LAPD saw a five-fold increase in COVID-19 cases last week.
At LAPD, 424 employees — primarily sworn members —tested positive for the virus. That number was 82 just the week before, according to Moore.
As infection rates explode, so have the numbers of officers having to quarantine.
Moore said that on average, it takes about three weeks for infected employees to recover and be back at work.
“We will see some delay in routine calls,” Moore said.
At LAFD, response times have also been slightly longer because of the staffing issues, according to Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
“When you call for help from the LAFD, we will respond,” Terrazas said. “However, our response times have been impacted by our lack of staffing due to COVID.”
LAFD officials have been trying to make sure there are enough ambulances and fire trucks working by supplementing staffing with firefighters who voluntarily work overtime as well as recall firefighters.
“We have 299 firefighters off duty due to the virus,” Terrazas said. “It’s the highest we’ve seen at any one time.”
The staffing shortage at LAFD forced the agency to close some ambulances and fire engines for 24 hours, but no fire stations have had to close down, according to Terrazas.
“We do have some fire stations with less resources than normal but are still open,” the fire chief said.
LAFD announced it will adopt a seven-day isolation protocol rather than the 10-day protocol that currently exists to deal with the staffing issues. Firefighters will also have to start wearing of KN95 and N95 masks rather than cloth coverings.
L.A. does have a COVID-19 mandate for city workers, who can apply for an exemption based on religious or medical reasons.
About 84.99% of LAFD employees are fully vaccinated, while hundreds have applied for exemptions to the mandate.
“We want a fully vaccinated workforce… many of us grew up wanting to be firefighters since we were very young, and to give up the profession, you must have deep conviction,” the fire chief said.