AUSTIN (KXAN) — Twenty-two Austin police officers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, the department confirmed Tuesday. In addition, 17 civilian employees have also tested positive, raising the department’s overall exposure to 39 people since the outbreak began.
The department could not immediately say when each officer or employee’s exposure happened, but APD will provide an update if it is able to release a timeline of those exposures.
“We have a lot of officers that are are coming down with COVID and are now out, and so, you know, we’re having to to redeploy and figure out how we’re going to fill those vacancies, especially if they’re occurring on patrol,” APD Assistant Chief Joe Chacon said in an interview with KXAN last week.
The Austin Police Department has close to 1,900 sworn officers.
On June 23, Austin Police said six sworn officers had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as two civilian employees.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said he believes recent protests contributed to the increase in COVID-19 cases. Austin Police have not confirmed that.
“We had six officers, actually employees, that had COVID leading up to the protests, and now we’ve had numerous people get COVID in between those two weeks of having to deal with protests, so we’re not buying into that it had nothing to do with the uptick of COVID in the city,” Casaday said.
“There’s lots of other reasons, people not following their social distancing, but for them to say that the protests had nothing to do with the uptick in COVID is disingenuous at best,” Casaday continued.
After the first two weekends of large demonstrations in downtown Austin in late May and early June, Austin Public Health encouraged people who were at the protests to get tested, which they could do for free at Austin Public Health sites. However, Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority said APH couldn’t yet correlate protests to any kind of a surge in positive coronavirus cases at the time.
“None of the cases we’re seeing right now are related to protests,” Escott said on June 10.
On Tuesday, APH sent KXAN a statement, saying, “Since the beginning, Austin Public Health leadership acknowledged any large gatherings pose a higher risk for transmission of COVID-19. With the current levels of community transmission, it is not possible to determine with certainty the source of any individual case.”
All APD officers must wear masks, according to an order in April from Police Chief Brian Manley, and the department provided masks to all of its officers.
“We encourage our officers to wear their masks and to try to avoid unnecessary contact at all costs,” Casaday added.
KXAN video of the protests showed many people wore masks, but many also did not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that masks protect others in case you are sick but are not as effective at preventing you from getting sick if you are around someone else who has COVID-19 and is not wearing a mask.