Long Beach police officer and three more firefighters test positive for COVID-19; city confirms 70 total cases

A Long Beach police officer has tested positive for COVID-19, adding to the growing number of local first-responders who have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Friday.

Earlier this week, the city reported that eight firefighters had tested positive for coronavirus. That number rose to 13 Friday.

Overall, the city on Friday confirmed 70 total cases in Long Beach, up from 54 on Thursday. The officer is a Long Beach resident and is counted in the latest total, officials said.

Officials said the officer works in the West Patrol Division and was tested after exhibiting flu-like symptoms. The officer is in self-isolation. His partner officer was also directed to self-quarantine during the 14-day incubation period.

It is unknown how the officer contracted the virus.

Police Chief Robert Luna in a news conference Friday said he felt like he was “kicked in groin” on Thursday evening when he learned that one of his officers had tested positive. The department has prepared for the possibility, but the news was still shocking, he said.

Luna said the officer and his partner are in good spirits.

“His is resting at home, he’s following his doctor’s orders and he is expected at this time to make a full recovery,” Luna said.

The department has been working to protect its employees with extensive planning and new protocols, Luna said, adding that he had a phone conferenced on Friday with the chiefs of other other major city police departments to talk about best practices.

For now, he’s looking at how the department can limit contact so its patrol officers can keep social distancing. Options may include officers calling individuals instead of responding in the field for non-violent dispatch calls, he said.

The department has six employees who are under quarantine and others being test, he said.

“As we have given our community ‘stay home orders,’ our officers don’t have an option,” he said. “They are on the frontlines.”

Local health officials are investigating the case in assistance with the police department. Other employees and community members may be notified about possible exposure as the investigation progresses, officials said. 

“Our police officers are on the frontlines every day, bravely putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement.  “We are providing support to the impacted employees and their families and continuing our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our city.”

The city has completed a deep cleaning of the West Division building and designated police cars. This week, Fire Station 11 was disinfected after 10 firefighters tested positive.

This news should not deter the public from calling 9-1-1 when needing emergency assistance, city officials said. Long Beach police and fire departments continue to take extensive precautions to safeguard community members and other emergency personnel.

The Los Angeles Police Department reported Thursday that the number of its employees testing positive for the illness had risen to 15. It was notimmediately clear how many of those are officers.

Los Angeles County, meanwhile, saw five more deaths due to coronavirus, raising the total to 26, and the county’s mortality rate from the illness rose above the levels seen across the country and in New York City, which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus.

Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health, said 257 more cases have been confirmed in the county, bringing the county’s total to 1,481, including the new cases in Long Beach. 

Of the five deaths reported by Los Angeles County on Friday, all were over the age of 60 — four men and one woman, Ferrer said. On Thursday, the county reported nine deaths, eight of whom were also over age 60, and one in their 40s with underlying health conditions.

Ferrer noted that of the people who have tested positive for the virus in Los Angeles County, 1.8% have died. She said that is a higher mortality rate than the nation as a whole, and above that see in New York City, which has a rate of about 1.4%.

Ferrer said the county’s overall number of positive cases has more than tripled in less than six days as testing becomes more widely available.

She said all residents should keep practicing social distancing.

“The increase in part reflects improved access to testing and we’re catching up on being able to test people who have serious illnesses,” she said. “But we also have to assume that these numbers present the very real fact that we have a lot more people infected in the county who are able to infect others.”

With the weekend approaching and county officials hoping to avoid a repeat of large crowds gathering at beaches and other public locations, the county issued an order closing all of its beaches and trails through at least April 19.

Most of the county’s individual coastal cities have also closed off beaches, parking lots and pathways that provide access to the beach.

“I ask that you help us by not going to our beaches and not going to our hiking trails, at least for the next few weeks,” Ferrer said. “… Many of our parks do remain open so there are opportunities for people to go outside and enjoy our beautiful county, but only if we practice social distancing.”

– City News Service contributed to this report

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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