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APD, AFR seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases

Albuquerque Fire Department paramedics and Albuquerque Ambulance personnel wear gloves and masks while responding to sick call in Northwest Albuquerque in April. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Dozens of Albuquerque firefighters and police officers have contracted COVID-19 or are in quarantine awaiting test results after the departments had a spike of virus cases over the past few weeks.

The Albuquerque Police Department has reported 24 active cases among officers and civilian employees, while Albuquerque Fire Rescue has 20 active cases among firefighters.

There have been no reported hospitalizations and both departments say the outbreaks mirror recent spikes within the community.

APD interim Chief Harold Medina said an additional 51 officers or employees are in quarantine as they await test results and, at some point, multiple stations and the Police Academy had to be shut down and sanitized.

“It’s not just one area that’s getting hit, although we’ve had some units hit harder than others, but it’s across the board,” he said.

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham amended a public health order Friday, APD will close all their substations starting Monday and encourages the public to file police reports online.

With officers off the streets, Medina said they have had to spread out the work and, for example, had a group of detectives take calls for service over the weekend.

He said APD is implementing temperature checks at each station and having more video briefings, but said the situation is “difficult.”

“Just like it’s spreading in the community” Medina said. “People go back home – it may be a family member has COVID – then, before you know it, the whole family, including the officer, has COVID.”

Officer Shaun Willoughby called the virus “a force to be reckoned with” for APD.

“This is definitely no joke, this is not fake, (the virus) is always in the back of our minds,” he said.

Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, said he is in quarantine and recovering after contracting COVID-19, along with family members.

“It can be pretty devastating, we have almost 10% of our workforce out – whether they’ve had an exposure or they’re positive,” he said, adding that it is “a constant battle” to keep people safe.

“It’s definitely something we’ve had to tangle with,” Willoughby said, adding that the department has done a good job so far of serving the public while dealing with station shutdowns and a dwindling police force.

“Regardless of the fears and regardless of the sacrifice, these people are going to do their job and do their best to keep this community safe – period,” he said.

At AFR, firefighters are dealing with a similar situation.

Deputy Chief Emily Jaramillo said they have 20 active cases among firefighters – more than half of the total 39 cases since March.

“Over the past week and a half is where we’ve seen our spike,” she said, adding that many of the cases have come in during off-duty hours.

Jaramillo said they bought large-scale sprayers to disinfect stations “pretty rapidly” and are “very fortunate” not to have shut down any stations yet. It is now recommended that firefighters wear full protective gear on all calls.

“Because you never really know if someone is asymptomatic or not,” she said.

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