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COVID-19 case numbers are on the rise at APD

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Interim Police Chief Harold Medina

With 17 new cases confirmed Wednesday alone, officials say a total of 46 Albuquerque Police Department employees now have COVID-19.

That’s nearly half of the 96 infections the department has experienced in the eight months since New Mexico announced the first virus cases.

Including the active cases – 34 among officers and 12 among civilian staff – and other virus-related quarantines and absences, 131 APD employees were out Thursday, representing about 8% of the department’s total workforce.

APD is the largest city department and has had the most COVID-19 cases, but the virus is cropping up elsewhere in the municipal ranks. Excluding police, 66 Albuquerque city employees have tested positive this month alone, a city spokeswoman told the Journal.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue, for example, currently has 15 active cases.

ABQ Ride, the city’s transit department, has 22 drivers on quarantine due to active COVID-19 cases or exposure to the virus.

The numbers coincide with a national surge in COVID-19 infections. New Mexico is now routinely toppling daily case count records.

Interim APD Chief Harold Medina said the department’s case count is concerning and police are handling as many calls as possible via telephone, but that it hasn’t interrupted APD’s response.

“We still have our officers out there. We’re still functioning as a police department,” Medina said in a video conference call with reporters Thursday.

APD has sometimes used investigative staff to answer calls, but Medina said 18 officers are wrapping training this week and should relieve pressure by filling in the holes COVID-19 had created in field units.

APD officials say the 911 dispatch center has been among the hardest hit as employees work in close proximity and cannot telecommute.

“We have an extreme regimen of cleaning there and they wear masks all the time that they’re at work. But that area has been impacted. We cannot (offer remote work to) those employees, so that’s been an ongoing challenge for us,” APD Deputy Chief Michael Smathers said.

Like APD, ABQ Ride’s current COVID-19-related absences represent about 8% of its driving workforce.

But a spokesman said that hasn’t affected operations for the department, which has provided some level of bus service throughout the pandemic.

“As far as bus service, all routes are meeting the current schedule,” ABQ Ride spokesman Rick De Reyes said in an email, citing what he called a group of “extra-board drivers” built into the city ranks to handle driver absences.

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