LA police, fire agencies had over 200 COVID-19 outbreaks

Public health officials have identified more than 200 coronavirus outbreaks at police or fire agencies throughout Los Angeles County since the start of the pandemic, according to data obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The 211 outbreaks, accounting for more than 2,500 cases between March 2020 and last month, represent 9% of total workplace outbreaks across the county, the newspaper reported Sunday. However, they have continued to occur regularly even as vaccination rates increased among police and fire personnel and the number of individual coronavirus cases per outbreak has fallen since last winter.

The data showed 38 outbreaks at public safety agencies were identified in April of this year — the most in any month since the start of the pandemic. A month later, 35 outbreaks — the second most — were recorded by the county Department of Public Health.

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Overall, more than half of the outbreaks occurred at the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department, where some employees have filed lawsuits challenging a new rule requiring them to be vaccinated by next month. Thousands have filed notice that they intend to claim a medical or religious exemption from the mandate.

Vaccination rates for LAPD and LAFD employees generally lag behind the 68% of eligible county residents who have gotten their shots.

RELATED: LAPD reports 84 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in past week

Critics have accused the police officers and city firefighters of ignoring public safety — and their sworn duties to uphold it — by refusing to get vaccinated.

While police and firefighters have personal rights, as public safety officers "they have a responsibility to take any reasonable steps to avoid endangering the public," said Dr. Timothy Brewer, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health.

Dustin DeRollo, a spokesman for the union that represents LAPD officers, said the union has worked with the department since the pandemic began to ensure physical workspaces are kept clean and safe, and continues to negotiate with the city on the vaccination requirement. The union is seeking an option for unvaccinated officers to undergo regular testing instead.

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