Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has rescinded a mandate requiring new Metropolitan Police Department hires to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a Tuesday interview, Lombardo said he continues to encourage officers and other employees to get the vaccine. But with a recent dip in positive cases at the department, he lifted the vaccine mandate for new hires about a week ago.
“I support the vaccines,” the sheriff said. “I think they keep you from a detrimental experience or hospitalization possibly resulting in death, but that is a personal decision.”
Metro has more than 5,700 employees and more than 3,900 commissioned officers. It also has been hard hit by COVID-19, with many employees getting sick and some dying.
On Tuesday, Lombardo said that during the peak of the spread of the delta variant Metro had 300 employees off at one time because of COVID-19. At the peak of the omicron variant, that number rose to 400.
“We’ve had to move some people from one station to the next to make sure that we have shifts covered,” the sheriff said. “People traditionally in plainclothes put the uniform on to help support the patrol effort.”
But Lombardo said that the number of employee absences due to COVID-19 recently dropped.
“I think we’ve reached our peak,” he said. “We are starting to get on the downhill slide of this. Hopefully, we don’t have a new variant rear its head, but we are getting people back to work.”
Updated numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services showed that, as of Monday, there were 475,484 coronavirus cases and 6,893 deaths in Clark County since the pandemic began. New cases reported over this past weekend, though, are less than half of the total recorded a week earlier.
Metro has never required existing employees to get the vaccine. The 2021 decision to put the mandate in place for new hires unfolded when the vaccination rate at the department was at 52 percent. Lombardo, who is a Republican candidate for governor, had previously said he planned to roll it back once overall metrics improved. He said the initial decision also was made in part after COVID-19 “decimated” two police cadet academies.
“We had a significant number of individuals test positive, and as a result, the whole class had to be sequestered,” Lombardo said. “We had to teach them from home. That had a huge, detrimental impact.”
He said that since then, “the numbers and hospitalizations have waned. I made the conscious decision, informed decision, to lift that mandate.”
Also, in December, COVID-19 vaccination mandates for Nevada college students and state corrections and treatment facility workers expired when state legislators deadlocked on whether to extend them.
Brian Labus, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UNLV School of Public Health, said that given the increased risks of exposure and disease that police officers face, they should make sure to get vaccinated.
“I’m concerned about anyone not getting vaccinated, but it is a trend we are seeing all over the country, though, with different employers not wanting to mandate that,” Labus said. “We know that if it’s not a mandate, the vaccination rates are not as high as we’d like them to be.”