Over 800 Los Angeles Police, Fire Personnel Off Work Due to COVID, Slowing Response Times

California officials said more than 800 city police officers and firefighters in Los Angeles are not working on Thursday after being infected with COVID-19, which is causing longer response times for ambulances and fires trucks.

California's COVID-19 cases have increased nearly 500 percent in the past two weeks. Since Christmas, hospitalizations have doubled, now totaling 8,000 people.

More than 500 LAPD officers and other police department employees plus 300 firefighters tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently not working, said Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Because of the staffing shortages, some fire trucks and ambulances have not been operating for 24 hours. However, all firehouses are remaining open, said Chief Ralph Terrazas.

Response times have slowed slightly, with ambulances taking 13 seconds longer to respond to calls and the fire department taking six seconds longer compared to a year ago.

Los Angeles city firefighters, separate from the county's fire department, were working overtime to cover shifts. Some people volunteered while others were forced to stay after their scheduled shift ended, Terrazas said.

Police Chief Michel Moore said after an officer gets COVID-19, it takes an average of three weeks before the officer is back at work.

"This is an incredibly tough moment," Garcetti said. "The Omicron variant has taken off like wildfire."

California COVID-19 Surge
Over 800 police officers and firefighters are not working in Los Angeles after testing positive for COVID-19. Above, a registered nurse stirs a nasal swab in testing solution after administering a COVID-19 test at Sameday Testing on July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Los Angeles County Fire Department, separate from the city department, has 450 firefighters absent after testing positive, acting Assistant Chief Brian Bennett told the Carson, California, City Council on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Moore said the police department has not yet forced officers to stay on the job to meet the demand.

"That lever is still before us," Moore said. "I will not suggest to you that we would want to endure the current shortages of personnel for months on end.…We do see this as a surge that will be, it is our hope and belief, short lived."

Terrazas said he planned to cancel approved vacations for firefighters.

The surge of cases in the country's most populous state is threatening to overwhelm hospitals. State officials on Wednesday extended an indoor mask mandate into mid-February as the Omicron variant has also sidelined health care workers, leading to hospital staffing shortages that could become a bigger problem.

State models forecast that hospitalizations could top 20,000 by early next month, a level nearly as high as last January, when California experienced its deadliest surge.

"We are and continue to be concerned about our hospitals," Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. "Some facilities are going to be strapped."

Public health officials across the state have advised residents to avoid visiting emergency rooms for COVID-19 tests or treatment that could be handled by a family doctor, telemedicine or at urgent care clinics.

In the state's Fresno County, more than 300 workers at area hospitals were out recovering from COVID-19 or isolating because of exposure to the virus, said Dan Lynch, the county's emergency medical services director. Ambulance personnel will likely be asked to assess patients and only transport people with true emergencies to ER departments.

California had the lowest per-capita case rate in the U.S. in September, but like the rest of the country, it's now experiencing a dramatic rise from the new variant. It now ranks 29th in new cases per capita over the past two weeks.

The Grammy Awards, which had been scheduled for January 31 in Los Angeles, were postponed indefinitely Wednesday because of health and safety concerns, and the NFL said it was looking into possible alternative sites for next month's Super Bowl scheduled in L.A.

While the league finds back-up venues every year, it could come into play if there are attendance restrictions, though Garcetti said he doubted it would be moved.

"I'm confident that will happen here and that we'll be able to have a great Super Bowl celebration," he said.

Ghaly encouraged unvaccinated people to get inoculated and others to get booster shots if they haven't already received one to either prevent or lessen the impact of an infection. He said the vaccines and therapeutics to treat COVID-19 are all part of an approach largely absent a year ago, and there is no discussion of further restrictions.

Los Angeles said it would begin requiring employers to equip workers in close quarters indoors with medical grade masks by January 17.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.