LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases has sidelined more than 800 Los Angeles city police and fire personnel and led to slightly longer ambulance and fire response times, adding to concerns about shortages of critical staff including health care workers.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday that more than 500 LAPD officers and other police employees and nearly 300 firefighters were off-duty after testing positive for COVID-19, though he said measures were being taken to ensure the safety of the public.
"This is an incredibly tough moment," Garcetti said. "The omicron variant has taken off like wildfire."
The Los Angeles Police Department, which has about 9,500 sworn officers, has 505 officers at self-quarantining after testing positive for the virus, Garcetti said at a news conference. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the average recovery time for LAPD employees to return to work is about three weeks. Only one of the employees who is off-duty with the virus is hospitalized, however, and that person is in "extremely grave'' condition, Moore added.
The Los Angeles Fire Department, with a total of nearly 3,800 employees, has 299 sworn and civilian personnel off-duty due the virus. A few weeks ago, only about 24 employees were off-duty due to COVID-19, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said, speaking alongside the mayor and the LAPD chief at a fire station. Throughout the pandemic, a total of 1,475 fire department personnel have tested positive for the virus, and the number of personnel off-duty as of Thursday is the highest level the department has seen.
"These are big numbers, numbers that are reflecting the staffing challenges that all of us face, whether its in the private sector, the public sector and across all of our city departments,'' Garcetti said.
Despite the surge in COVID-19 cases across the county and within departments tasked with ensuring public safety, Garcetti said Angelenos should not worry that the police and fire departments are unable to respond to calls for service.
"Both LAPD and LAFD have maintained staffing levels that are needed to keep Angelenos safe," the mayor said. "Let me repeat that, we've maintained staffing levels to make sure you, your family, our communities are safe."
He added that additional precautions are being taken to ensure public safety needs continue to be met, including the authorization of additional overtime funds to pay employees who cover the shifts of personnel sick with COVID-19.
However, Terrazas said that while fire stations are not closed due to the impacts from COVID-19, some stations have less resources than normal, with fire engines and ambulances out of service for 24 hours.
"Our response times have been impacted by our lack of staffing due to COVID,'' Terrazas said.
The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.