COVID-19 Surge Slams City of Dallas Employees, Leaving Hundreds Quarantined

Dallas County recently raised the COVID-19 risk level to red, meaning there’s a high risk of coronavirus transmission.
Dallas County recently raised the COVID-19 risk level to red, meaning there’s a high risk of coronavirus transmission. U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
As the omicron variant spreads throughout the U.S., COVID-19 is hitting first responders and others employed by the city of Dallas. The city employs about 13,000 people. While they’re not required to be vaccinated, daily COVID-19 tests are mandatory.

In the last week, more than 200 Dallas Fire-Rescue first responders tested positive for COVID-19 and are now in quarantine, DFR spokesperson Jason Evan told the Observer.

“Though it is the highest number we’ve had off at any particular time (for COVID), it has not resulted in any gaps in service,” Evans said. “Though we have had to account for staffing shortages, through available trained personnel and overtime, we’ve been able to fully staff all of our front-line units."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance on isolation time for people who test positive for the virus. Until recently, the CDC guidance instructed people to isolate for 10 days after testing positive.

But last month, the agency cut the isolation time in half. Now, if you test positive, you can return to work after five days of resolving symptoms (no fever for 24 hours.) For the next five days, the individual returning to work should wear a mask.

The CDC faced criticism over the change, with people saying a negative COVID-19 test result should be required before returning to work. Yet the CDC stood by the decision, saying people with resolved symptoms don't need a negative test to go back to work, according to NPR. The agency said if an individual wants to take another test, they should do so toward the end of the five days. They also recommend an antigen test be used. If that test comes up positive, the CDC recommends continuing isolation for the rest of the 10-day period.

DFR recently updated its isolation protocols accordingly, but it requires a negative test. "While we were having our members isolate for 10 days before returning to work, we've recently made some changes to our procedures, in light of the most recent CDC recommendations, enabling us to decrease that time by allowing our members to take another test after 5 days," Evans said. "If they test negative they can then return to work."

“You are certainly going to see stresses on the system.” – Dr. Anthony Fauci

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At the Dallas Police Department, 36 officers and eight civilian employees have tested positive and are in quarantine, a spokesperson said. Six additional employees have also quarantined voluntarily because of possible exposure.

“Since our first reported positive test for COVID-19 in March 2020, the total number of employees who have tested positive is 1051,” said Juan Fernandez, the DPD spokesperson. “Of those, 881 were officers and 170 were non-sworn employees.”

Fernandez said DPD is back to holding virtual meetings and reminds officers to follow departmental and CDC guidelines. The department also encourages officers to get fully vaccinated and recently made booster shots available at every patrol station.

“At this time, the Dallas Police Department has not seen an impact nor experienced any unusual disruptions in its day to day operations because of those members currently out on COVID 19 leave,” Fernandez said. “Therefore, our message still remains the same, call 911 in cases of emergencies or use our online reporting system to self-report certain crimes online.”  

Dr. Joseph Chang, Parkland’s chief medical officer, told NBC DFW this week that the healthcare system is battling Omicron and a staffing shortage. He said a couple hundred staff members were quarantined with COVID or COVID-like symptoms.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my staff are having a very difficult time trying to weather yet another wave of COVID,” Chang told NBC DFW.

Dallas' Department of Sanitation Services is also "experiencing moderate personnel and equipment availability issues attributable to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases," the city said this week.

As a result, recycling services have been delayed. The city said if recycling isn’t picked up on the scheduled day, it may be picked up the next day.

“Recycling routes may continue to be delayed by one day in various areas of the city, on a rotating basis, over the next few weeks, until staffing levels stabilize,” the city said. Additionally, the city said residents shouldn’t report missed recycling collection to 311 unless it’s been missed two days in a row.

The city’s sanitation services department was already facing a staffing shortage that caused similar delays last year, leading to over 27,000 311 complaints from Dallas residents, according to The Dallas Morning News. Now, they’re facing a surge in coronavirus cases.

These staffing shortages are affecting schools, hospitals, and police and fire departments in cities across the country.

According to Bloomberg, about 3,339 schools were closed in the first week of January due to staffing shortages and the increase in coronavirus cases. Cincinnati’s mayor declared a state of emergency, which allows the city’s fire chief to take additional steps to staff the department as first responders continue to get sick, according to CNN.

Talking about critical jobs that keep society functioning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical advisor, told CNN. “You are certainly going to see stresses on the system.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn