MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Zika fears on Miami Beach are now affecting the police department.
Officers are upset after some of their colleagues were diagnosed with the Zika virus, but the city is denying them workers' compensation.
"There's officers that are very concerned about what's going to happen, even where they want to wear biohazardous suits sometimes because they're afraid," Bobby Jenkins, president of the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police and State FOP Lodge, said.
Officers are out on the streets protecting the community, but protection for the Miami Beach police officers required to work outdoors in a Zika zone is something they said the city is not giving them.
"It sends the wrong message to the employee, sends the wrong message to everybody," Jenkins said. "If they're not going to take care of us, they're not going to take care of anybody else."
Two Miami Beach police officers have been diagnosed with the Zika virus.
Sgt. Michelle Sayegh was the first to be diagnosed. She told Local 10 News that she had swollen hands, a rash from head to toe and is still dealing with pain.
A second officer received positive test results last week, but does not want to be identified.
The city of Miami Beach has denied them both workers' comp.
"They cover hepatitis, they cover all the other. If we go into a hazmat call and we contract something there, they're going to cover it, but they won't cover this," Jenkins said.
The union leadership believes city leaders need to set a precedent and a standard for the rest of the state and the country as the Zika virus continues to spread.
"You would consider this a crisis?" Local 10 News reporter Erica Rakow asked.
"Yes, because it's only getting bigger. Departments all over the state are concerned about it," Jenkins said.
The FOP president sent a letter to all commissioners, the mayor and the city manager last week, saying in part, "We think it is inappropriate and irresponsible on the part of those who govern Miami Beach to ignore this issue while our first responders continue to be exposed to the virus and its effects without the guarantee of any healthcare recourses being extended to them."
With no action or response from the city, the Florida FOP is going to the state, making workers comp coverage for the Zika virus their top priority this legislative session.
"In my opinion, the governor can do an executive order to cover it and it would resolve the whole problem, or we have to go the long way and get some state representatives and senators to make a law to change it," Jenkins said.
Though both Miami Beach police officers work in the Zika zone, but live in areas where the health department said there is no active transmission of the virus, the city maintains the employee must be able to prove that the exposure took place while working to be eligible for workers' comp.
Full letter from Jenkins to Miami Beach city leaders sent Oct. 28:
Dear Mayor Levine,
I am writing to you in my capacity as the President of the Florida State and the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police to address the ongoing Zika crisis that is affecting first responders in Miami Beach.
As you may already know, we now have a second confirmed case of a Miami Beach police officer who has contracted the virus. Over the past two months, we have approached the Miami Beach administration on numerous occasions to discuss an appropriate response for providing healthcare coverage to first responders who contract the virus while working in a Zika zone.
While we understand that these circumstances are unprecedented, we have been working with the faith that the Administration would show benevolence in dealing with this issue and the impact that it is having on its first responders. Unfortunately, the City has yet to show any benevolence or even willingness to establish a protocol that is acceptable for determining eligibility of workers compensation benefits as it relates to Zika.
As ground zero for the Zika virus in the United States, the City of Miami Beach has an obligation to set the standard for how the state and indeed the entire nation should address the healthcare needs of first responders who have contracted the virus while working in Zika infected zones.
Despite efforts to mitigate the issue in Miami Beach, the number of Zika cases continues to rise and as recently as last week, there was another pool of infected mosquitoes discovered in the city. We think it is inappropriate and irresponsible on the part of those who govern Miami Beach to ignore this issue while our first responders continue to be exposed to the virus and its effects without the guarantee of any healthcare recourses being extended to them, despite the fact that their risk of exposure is exponential in comparison to the rest of the population.
We respectfully request a response that properly addresses this issue to be provided to our membership by COB October 31, 2016. We are confident that the city will follow the correct path and provide our currently affected members (and any future first responder cases that may arise) with an appropriate level of healthcare that will adequately address their illness. As community leaders in the City, it is your responsibility and mine to ensure that we provide employees and citizens with an adequate course of action that makes sense for all.
Moving forward, the Florida State FOP has committed to making it a legislative priority to classify Zika and other mosquito borne illnesses part of presumptive workers comp coverage for the State’s first responders.
Thank you in advance for your immediate attention,
President, Florida State Fraternal Order of Police