Humboldt County essential services face omicron surge – Times-Standard

As COVID cases continue to climb in Humboldt County, critical resources are feeling the strain.

Since the omicron surge began in December, law enforcement agencies across the state have been forced to increase overtime, cut services and redirect non-emergency calls to online portals. . As state-level law enforcement agencies say they experience outbreaks within their ranks, so do local legal departments — often with fewer resources.

Understaffed law enforcement agencies like the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office had to bring in patrol deputies to work in the dispatch center when dispatchers called with COVID.

Honsal (Times-Standard File)

“We have (had) our ups and downs over the past year. We have had minor outbreaks within the organization as well as at the correctional facility,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said. “For the last year or so this has affected patrol operations as well as dispatch where we have had multiple dispatchers at a time. Dispatchers got sick in the middle of the night and had to bring in patrol assistants to work in our dispatch center, but I’m happy to report that no matter how short we were, we were always on able to put people in these essential positions.

The Eureka Police Department faced similar circumstances.

“We’ve had our share of staff shortages, but we’re working hard to maintain a high level of service and rapid emergency response,” said EPD spokeswoman Brittany Powell. “We have a few police officers who have been cross-trained as dispatchers to help fill vacancies. We have a dedicated team of professionals who ensure minimum staffing levels are met by covering vacant shifts with overtime. »

Regardless of the situation, Powell said EPD is committed to providing high-level service to Eureka residents. “Every employee went above and beyond to take on extra duties, sign up to cover vacant shifts, work extended shifts, and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

“At this time, we have not had to rely on other agencies to help us, but local dispatch centers communicate regularly and maintain a close working relationship,” she added.

Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn said staffing shortages have not impacted response times “or the department’s ability to respond to emergencies or ongoing crimes”.

Ahearn (Times-Standard file)

“COVID, or any other condition, has had no impact on dispatch center operations other than the ebb and flow of staff caused by attrition that we manage through the testing and hiring process,” did he declare. “…Fortunately for the APD, when we transferred our Community Response Unit sergeant and two officers and two detectives to patrol for personnel shortages caused by attrition, we had enough resources to patrol in place to make up for any staff shortages.”

Honsal noted that the sheriff’s office has the ability to connect with dispatch centers across the county to cover service calls, but said that has not become necessary at this point.

“Let’s say, for example, the Eureka Police Department is criticized or they suddenly have to shut down their dispatch center, they can flip a switch and the 911 calls that would normally go to them would come through to us. It’s something we can do for them and vice versa,” he explained. “The Eureka, Arcata and Fortuna police departments are all on the same system, so we could send out the individual units as needed.”

Humboldt Bay Fire spokeswoman Amy Conlin said the department had to retain employees to maintain staffing levels, increasing overtime costs “as well as the potential for burnout for our employees.”

“During the omicron surge, we experienced positive cases of COVID within our department. Because of that, we had to hold people back in order to maintain a minimum of staff,” Conlin said. “Fortunately, it lasted a fairly short period of time which we seem to be on the other side of, at least for now. wave, we’re starting to limit the number of people we can hold per day.”

If Humboldt Bay Fire fell below minimum staffing levels, Conlin said the department would be forced to “reduce staff at one of our fire stations.”

“Removing staff at one fire station would mean that our teams are responding to four fire stations instead of five in our jurisdiction and the response area of ​​the understaffed fire station would be covered by the two closest fire stations,” said she explained. “…If we ever run out of staff, we can absolutely call on mutual aid partners for major incidents or community coverage if (our) engines get stuck on a larger incident. …It’s not a routine, but for major incidents, we call on this mutual assistance.

Conlin pointed out that the realities of COVID have been extremely stressful for crews and their families “as there is always potential for exposure through our emergency response work as well as the pressure to constantly navigate guidelines in constant evolution on protective measures”.

Local public health officials expect the ongoing omicron surge to peak in mid-February. Until then, Honsal said he’s taking it “one day at a time.”

“Hopefully our community will get by for a month or two. I hope and pray that our numbers start to come down, hospitalizations go down and hopefully we will achieve herd immunity,” he said. “…I am optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Isabella Vanderheiden can be reached at 707-441-0504. Calmatters Byrhonda Lyons contributed to this report.

Michelle J. Kelley