Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and began isolating at home while he recovers, a department spokesman said late Tuesday night.
“Although feeling ill, he is in good spirits and is hopeful he will feel better in the coming days,” spokesman Richard Mejia said in an email. “Chief Luna believes his symptoms could have been much worse if he were not vaccinated. We continue to urge all Department personnel to get up-to-date vaccinations and take necessary precautions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
The LBPD has struggled to bring its vaccination rates up to that of the general population but has made some progress in recent months. In September, 51% of the department’s roughly 800 police officers had shown proof of vaccination. As of Tuesday, that percentage was up to 60%. In Long Beach as a whole, 76.8% of adult residents are vaccinated, according to the most recent data from the city.
The department has been encouraging its officers to get vaccinated, but a mandate that would require it under threat of discipline isn’t yet in effect. Negotiations with employees unions about how the mandate would work have been going on since September. There should be an update on the process “shortly after the first of the year,” Long Beach’s city manager said in a memo Tuesday.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections have surged in Long Beach and across the state, with the new highly contagious omicron variant believed to be the culprit. On Monday, Long Beach reported a large increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive, from 2.8% last week to 5%. And the rate of new cases per 100,000 residents more than doubled to 39.
The Long Beach Fire Department has seen the surge within its own ranks, with almost 50 of its employees testing positive over the span of five days, officials said. Most of those infections were mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic breakthrough infections, according to the LBFD. Seventy percent of Long Beach firefighters have shown proof of vaccination.
The LBPD early Wednesday morning wasn’t immediately able to provide data on the number of police officers who’d tested positive. But Long Beach police saw a surge in their ranks around this time last year, with 45 employees in about five weeks testing positive for the virus.
Around that time, Chief Luna also received nationwide attention and harsh criticism for speaking to dozens of unmasked officers at an indoor training event. Luna later said he wished he’d handled the situation differently, and the department warned officers they could be disciplined if they didn’t wear masks.
Luna is set to retire from the department at the end of the year. Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish will move into the top job Jan. 1.