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Over 200 Dallas first responders are out with COVID-19

Woman administering vaccine to man in Dallas Fire & Rescue t-shirt. Both are seated around a desk.
Courtesy of Dallas Fire & Rescue
The Dallas Police Department has had dozens of officers and support staff call out this week.

The shortfall of police officers and firefighters has led to staffing challenges as the omicron variant rips through the country.

Over the past week, 44 people from the Dallas Police Department and 179 people from the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department have called in sick.

That’s about 8.5% of the Dallas Fire-Rescue staff, the most that have ever been out before. The department is already short-staffed, so the agency is paying some staff overtime to respond to the high demand of calls.

“We have minimum staffing, so we just pay overtime to staff those positions,” said Jim McDade, president of the Dallas Firefighters Association. “Firefighters are just working more overtime right now.”

The Dallas Police Department has had dozens of officers and support staff call out this week too. Officials say they’re concerned about this surge, since it’s different from past coronavirus trends.

“We have seen a dramatic increase. Because early part of December, end of October, early part of December, we were averaging two, three employees a week, testing positive for COVID," said Police Sergeant Warren Mitchell. "But during that last week, we had upwards of 44 new positive cases."

This isn’t just a Dallas problem. In Miami, about 7% of firefighters are out sick with COVID. In Cincinnati, the mayor declared a state of emergency because of the high staff outages there. In San Diego, the number is higher with 10% of firefighters out with COVID-19.

Unlike San Diego though, Dallas doesn’t require coronavirus vaccines for its first responders. But, it does require daily testing. For now, the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department says they hope to follow new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We are going to be looking into our current procedures with regard to the CDC recommendations for quarantine periods for first responders, and see if we can figure out a way to make adjustments so that that time can be shorter so that we can start getting members back,” said Jason Evans, a Dallas fire-rescue spokesperson.

Dallas hasn’t needed to curtail service calls because of the COVID staffing shortages. But that may become an option if officers and firefighters keep getting sick.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of Dallas Fire-Rescue staff that are on sick leave.

Got a tip? Email Haya Panjwani at Follow Haya on Twitter @hayapanjw

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Corrected: January 7, 2022 at 11:40 AM CST
Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.