First responders and police officers in South Florida are getting sick again with COVID-19 as the region sees a record spike.
NBC 6 reached out for information from the county emergency services and police departments along with the departments of the five largest cities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
Friday, firefighters decontaminated an ambulance after returning from a COVID-positive call at Station 2 for Fort Lauderdale’s Fire and Rescue service. They’re seeing an increase in COVID patients, according to Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan.
“Both internally and externally, we have more employees that are coming up positive. As well as more calls on the street within our community,” Gollan said.
On Friday, the department had 10 workers out sick with COVID; around half of their 412 firefighters are vaccinated. The department does not require vaccinations. They do require first responders to take a nasal swab test before every shift. They have that policy to guard against the rare “breakthrough” cases.
“We have seen some employees that have been vaccinated that have come back with symptoms,” said Gollan.
Chief Gollan says some “silver linings” are the COVID cases they’re seeing are not as severe as last year.
“The severity and symptoms are way different from where they were a year ago and we can’t help but contribute that to the vaccinations,” said Chief Gollan.
The virus will be an ongoing threat to police and first responders. Six of the rescue workers at the Surfside collapse site tested positive COVID earlier this month.
Many hope the virus spread doesn’t go as far as last year. An extreme example last July was when Oakland Park had half of their department positive with the virus at the same time, forcing them to temporarily shut down one of three fire stations. Many departments at the time told us they had to pay millions of dollars in overtime to cover people out sick.
For the most part, police department spokespeople say they do not keep track of their vaccination rate. Emergency services departments usually do keep track.
According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, they have 102 active confirmed cases as of July 30. 13 of those 102 are employees with their Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services. They include both sworn and civilian employees.
“BSO has encouraged and is encouraging vaccination for all of our employees and their families. We remain committed to the safety of employees and continue to follow the CDC guidelines and best practices in all operations to provide for the protection of our employees and safety of the public reserve,” wrote Miranda Grossman from the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
The office has an onsite location to get vaccinated.
BSO has not yet responded to whether they keep track of internal vaccination rates.
Miami-Dade Police has 89 positive cases with 42 waiting for results. The department tells NBC 6 they are doing a voluntary survey of vaccination status currently.
The City of Miami police department has 46 positive cases. Coral Gables police have one positive case as of Friday.
Pembroke Pines Fire and Rescue has no positive cases with 83% of their department vaccinated. Out of the departments which responded, that's the highest vaccination rate and the lowest number of positive cases.
Although other departments did provide numbers on COVID-positive employees, a spokesperson for Coral Springs Fire and Rescue would not confirm theirs, saying they “are legally unable to provide information about health-related issues of our employees, this is a privacy violation.”
Coral Springs Fire and Rescue, however, did conduct a voluntary poll of vaccination rates and a spokesperson tells NBC 6 they believe “just over 50% of our entire workforce is vaccinated and the city is doing everything possible to encourage all members to get vaccinated.”
Coral Springs requires all employees, contractors, and visitors to wear masks in city buildings.
“Facial coverings, and more importantly vaccines will help stop COVID-19 from spreading, making people critically ill and inundating our hospitals,” wrote Paula Rubiano, the public information officer for the City of Coral Springs, “The vaccine site at the Coral Square Mall is operational and open Tuesday through Sunday. No appointment is necessary.”
Nearly all of the emergency services departments which responded did encourage people to get vaccines or at least return to social distancing, repeated washing of hands, and wearing a mask in public.
Most departments have not yet responded to a request for information citing Friday office closures or that the request is pending in their public information process. Those include police departments in Miami Beach, Hialeah, Miami Gardens, Pembroke Pines, Miramar, and Hollywood. NBC 6 has not yet heard back from the emergency services departments of the City of Miami, Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Hialeah, Miami Gardens, Miramar, and Hollywood.