Estimated Austin Police Vaccination Lags Behind Travis County Rate

As the Austin Police Department grieves the deaths of two of its own from COVID-19, police are facing closer scrutiny about officers’ vaccination rate in the city.

Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon on Friday estimated that about 50% to 60% of the department’s officers and civilian staff are vaccinated, but he added that the figure could be off because the Police Department does not require officers or staff to report their vaccination status.

If correct, the departmentwide percentage is lower than the average rate throughout Travis County. In total, about 78% of the county’s residents 12 and older have received at least one dose. Police officers had early access to the vaccinations as first responders and were among those prioritized to receive vaccine doses first.  

Senior police officer Randolph Boyd died early Wednesday from COVID-19, and on Thursday, the department announced the death of Senior Sgt. Steve Urias. Chacon said he does not know whether the officers were vaccinated. 

“I myself am still trying to process these two deaths. … I can’t express how terribly they’re going to be missed,” Chacon said.

Both officers are survived by their wives and children. Their deaths are considered line-of-duty deaths, so Boyd and Urias will be afforded those honors at their funerals, he said. 

“I’m also asking our employees and the public to honor the memory of these two officers by taking all the precautions that you can to keep yourself and your family safe during this deadly pandemic,” Chacon said.

Chacon said he is vaccinated, and the department is encouraging all of its employees to get the vaccine, he said. However, Chacon said he respects officers’ personal decisions about whether to receive it.

A total of 41 Austin police officers are on leave after testing positive for COVID-19. At least one other officer is hospitalized with the virus. 

Officers’ patrol shift meetings, typically held indoors, are now being held outside, Chacon said. Officers are also driving alone more frequently than they used to as a way to minimize any potential spread of the virus.

Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services surveyed its medics earlier in the year about their vaccination status, in some cases reaching out via phone when people didn’t respond to the survey, said Selena Xie, president of the EMS union.

“When you’re dealing with the public — any public-facing position in the city — we should make a concerted effort to get people vaccinated and make it as easy as possible create incentives to get people vaccinated,” Xie said. “We should know what percentage of people are vaccinated, so that we also know what level of risk we are presenting to the public through these public safety agencies.”

She added that if an agency has a lot of employees unvaccinated, the chance that more people will get sick is higher.

“So, it’s on public safety to understand what level of risk they have, how many people might be out, how many people might potentially get very sick,” Xie said.

The Ascension Seton hospital network required that all its staff, including the officers who handle off-duty shifts, get vaccinated. Ken Casaday, president of the Austin police union, was among them and posted a Facebook photo that showed him getting the shot in December. 

Casaday said all citizens and officers need to be vaccinated.

“People need to take this seriously because it is real, and some officers — and some community members — are very, very sick,” Casaday said. 


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