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Central Texas first responders cope with staff being out for COVID-19 quarantine

Like most industries, the latest COVID-19 surge is impacting staffing within Central Texas first responders. Luckily, 6 News is told it's minimal.

TEXAS, USA — Central Texas first responders continue to battle keeping their communities safe, but that's not their only fight as the latest COVID-19 surge dips into their own departments.

"This recent surge we are seeing, we are no different than any other agency, department, employer," Killeen Fire Chief James Kubinski said. "We are seeing higher numbers of people out with COVID-19 positive tests."

Like most of the country, Central Texas first responders are dealing with the Omicron variant taking people out of work.

Kubinski says his department is lucky compared to others across the country that the virus has taken down.

"We're really not seeing too much of a strain on staffing," he said. "Little bit of overtime, maybe one or two personnel out of 52 that are on duty per day that we have to call for overtime coverage."

He says the biggest difference with this surge is they are able to get people back working sooner with the CDC recommending quarantine being only five days in most cases instead of ten.

"That definitely helped tremendously being able to implement that in getting those people who test positive back to work while wearing a mask for the next five days until that ten-day period is over," Kubinski explained.

When it comes to Central Texas police departments, they too are battling to keep themselves COVID-19 free.

"Our officers, of course, they are getting COVID-19," said Cierra Shipley, Waco Police spokeswoman. "However, it's nothing that we aren't able to manage right now. We are able to stay fully staffed on the streets and in house as well."

Shipley says Waco Police Department sees cases sporadically but it's easier for them as they're more socially distanced.

"They are equipped with the proper PPE that they need to to keep themselves safe and also others in the community," she said.

Temple Police Department told 6 News they have had a rise in COVID-19 cases since the new year but Chief Shawn Reynolds said staffing levels have remained unchanged.

But since the beginning of the pandemic, our first responders have always been on the frontlines and it shows through a new report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The number of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty across the United States in 2021 was more than 450, a 55% increase from 2020, according to the report. You can read the full document here. 

The report also states that COVID-19 was the leading cause of death with 301 reported.

The Bell County Sheriff's Department is one of the law enforcement agencies in Central Texas that lost one of their own to COVID-19.

In February 2021, the department's jail administrator Major Esteban Ramirez III died of COVID-19 complications.

McLennan Community College police officer Ricky Roberts died after battling the virus in mid-July. Another Central Texas officer, Michael Keathley, died after battling COVID-19 for a couple of weeks. He was the city marshal.

Although Waco Police hasn't lost one of their own to COVID-19, they feel for others who are a part of the thin blue line.

"We have seen throughout the country, a lot of officer deaths because of COVID-19 and it's heartbreaking to us as a department," Shipley said. "We have thankfully not have had to go through that. We've had to help other agencies deal with that as that has come out in McLennan County."

"Our officers are at a huge risk being out in the community and making those contacts with people because they have to make contact with people when people are in crisis," Shipley added.

But as first responders, it's a mission they sign up for and a fight they're ready for.

"This is really second nature and the fact that we're rushing into a dangerous environment to help people," Kubinski added.