AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department is keeping a close eye on staffing levels, especially ahead of the New Year’s Eve holiday and as COVID-19 cases rise among officers.
In a briefing Tuesday, Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the department generally increases the amount of officers on duty for the holiday. Recently, he said they have been affected by the same staffing shortages affecting businesses and restaurants.
“I’d be foolish to say that I’m not worried about COVID,” Chacon said Tuesday. “Thankfully, we don’t have any officers that are hospitalized, but I am seeing an uptick in the number of positive cases, the number of infections.”
Chacon said they plan to overstaff during the holiday weekend, meaning they will staff the downtown area at more than 100%, while keeping other sectors of the city staffed at 100%, too.
“So that if we do need to pull officers from other sectors to come downtown, then we are able to do that,” he said.
He said the department would be updating its COVID-19 protocols to reflect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance, which shortens the isolation time recommended after a positive test. Still, he said their weekly testing requirements would remain in place.
“We need to make sure that we keep our department staffed, and we have enough people out on the streets, but at the same time we have got to keep our employees safe,” he said.
Before turning to bolstering the area during the New Year’s Eve holiday, the chief discussed the most recent safety recommendations and potential changes coming to the downtown entertainment district. Several of the new recommendations from the city’s Safer Sixth Street Initiative call on the police department for help in changing the “character” of the district.
“It’s going to take some time for that change to occur. But I am concerned about, you know, just making sure that we have that people feel safe, that they are safe, and that they feel like they can they can go down to the Sixth Street entertainment district kind of at all hours and and not be worried about their safety.”
Michael Bajec spent years working on Historic East Six Street and said he’s glad to see a focus on safety.
He moved just a few blocks across Interstate 35, opening a bar called The Lucky Duck in east Austin. This weekend, they will host their first New Year’s Eve celebration since opening in January 2020.
“Our location is about 80% patio, outdoor. That’s really helped us with customers feeling comfortable, staff feeling comfortable,” he said. “We’re fortunate. The Lucky Duck has been lucky.”
Bajec said he’s thankful cases among their staff have remained low. In fact, they’ve been able to grow the business and plan to open a San Antonio location soon, and Bajec credits his staff’s hard work throughout the pandemic.
“Hopefully it will be a good time, and everyone feels safe. It’s really a book-end for us — getting through this,” he said.