MIAMI – Amid the coronavirus Delta variant’s spread and a surge in COVID cases in Miami-Dade County, police officers with vaccine hesitancy fear mandates and strict rules on testing and vaccines could be on the way and their union representatives are speaking up for them.
Earlier this month, Sgt. Thomas “Tommy” Reyes, the president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, released a statement criticizing Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo’s push for COVID vaccines. He cited a “super spreader” event at the Clarence Dickson Police College Auditorium. He was also especially wary after Acevedo’s 30-minute interview in Spanglish with Sasha Tirador, a Miami political operative.
“A lot of our folks are not vaccinated and if I get my way in the next couple of weeks we are going to say must get vaccinated ... I think we’re close to making everyone get shots. I’ll just leave it at that,” Acevedo told Tirador, adding “We’re close. You don’t like it? Go find your own job. You’re putting the public at risk.”
Acevedo is among the leaders in Miami-Dade who are facing opposition on blanket public health policies that some mistrust or politicize. He said Wednesday he understands there is opposition, but he is going to continue to encourage officers to get the protection of the vaccine.
While epidemiologists recommend having discipline with several layers of protection such as face masks and vaccines, there are people who view the implementation of these policies as an affront to individual liberties. Others still fear the vaccines are not safe and view their decision to avoid them as a way to protect their own health.
Reyes said the threats and claims of selfishness are unfair since many people in the law enforcement community are not comfortable with the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization and they are waiting for the official approval.
“I wouldn’t want any of our residents to be forced to get the vaccine,” Reyes said.
In his statement, Reyes wrote Acevedo’s comments were “reprehensible, disrespectful, inflammatory, and just flat out demoralizing.”
Without the FDA approval, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said a vaccine mandate would not be appropriate. For now, the City of Miami mandates that employees who are not vaccinated wear a face mask.
“I think the city manager is the ultimate decision-maker,” Suarez said.
Read the union’s statement
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued guidelines in January and updated them in June to help leaders of organizations to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID in the workplace. The main recommendation: “Employers should engage with workers and their representatives to determine how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
According to OSHA, most employers don’t “need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers.” But the Delta variant is changing the environment. Epidemiologists are reporting vaccine breakthrough cases, patients who had the protection of the vaccine but were infected anyway. Doctors said the cases are rare and the vaccine still protects most patients from hospitalization and death.
At the Miami-Dade Police Department, about 2,040 members participated in a survey. The department’s leadership found that about 52.7% of participants had the protection of the vaccine, 25.3% didn’t and 22% chose not to participate in the survey.
CDC: Safety tips for law enforcement agencies and personnel
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol, or wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Disinfect and clean any uniform items or other surfaces that were potentially exposed as soon as feasible. For example, the duty belt or other non-porous items can be disinfected using products that are EPA-approved. Porous items, like the uniform, should be replaced as soon as possible and then laundered according to manufacturers’ recommendations. This is especially important if any body fluids were expelled during the encounter (bloodborne pathogen protocols should also be followed if applicable). Gloves should be worn when touching potentially contaminated items or applying disinfectants and it is important to perform hand hygiene upon removing gloves or other PPE.
- If personnel and resources are available, it is most protective for law enforcement personnel to stay at home until 14 days after exposure to an individual with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 if the exposure was prolonged (10 minutes or more) or if the exposure was of concern (e.g., the individual coughed into the face of the law enforcement officer). This would best protect the health of the exposed worker, their co-workers, and the general public.
- If personnel and resources are not available, law enforcement personnel (considered critical infrastructure workers) may be permitted to work after exposure to ensure continuity of operations. To continue working, the exposed worker should remain symptom-free, and the employer should put into place the following prevention strategies for the exposed worker:
- Screen the worker for symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) before each work shift
- Regularly monitor the worker for symptoms, under the supervision of an occupational health program
- Ensure the worker practices social distancing (remaining at least 6 feet away from others)
- Ensure the worker wears a facemask (or cloth face covering if facemasks are unavailable) to protect others
- If an exposed worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) and is still working, the employer should: Send the worker home immediately and encourage them to follow CDC guidance for What to Do If You Are Sick. Clean and disinfect surfaces in their workspace. Follow CDC guidance to determine when the worker can return to work.
For more information, see CDC’s updated guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19.