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Sheriff says new employees must get COVID-19 vaccine

The Metropolitan Police Department is requiring new employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Tuesday.

“I think it’s my duty as the administrator of the Police Department to protect those employees, and therefore we make it a mandate for them to have the vaccine in order to be a member of the Police Department,” Lombardo said.

But in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at Metro headquarters, Lombardo said he has no plans to require other employees to get the shots.

The department is able to mandate vaccinations for new employees because they are not under a collective bargaining agreement, and Lombardo said the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, has opposed mandatory vaccinations.

Union President Steve Grammas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but he has previously spoken against mandatory vaccinations. Earlier in August, Grammas told the Review-Journal he was uncomfortable with the idea that public servants should be a “shining example” for the rest of the community.

“They shouldn’t be forced or told you need to do this,” he said.

Pushing the vaccine

As of Monday, 52 percent of Metro full-time and part-time employees had been fully vaccinated, Lombardo said. That’s slightly higher than the state vaccination rate, which stood at 49.5 percent of eligible Nevadans 12 and older as of Tuesday.

In early April, when about 34 percent of Metro employees were fully vaccinated, Lombardo said the rate was “unacceptable.” He stood by that assessment on Tuesday.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” he said. “We’ve done a great deal of proactive steps to try to convince the workforce to get the vaccine. And unfortunately, we haven’t gotten to the numbers that I wish it was at.”

Lombardo also wondered aloud whether employees who already have contracted and recovered from COVID-19 would bring the department closer to herd immunity.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for people who have recovered from COVID-19, because scientists are unsure how long they may be protected from getting sick after contracting the virus. It is possible, although rare, to be infected with COVID-19 twice, according to the CDC website.

Lombardo said the department has tried to educate officers about vaccines. That effort included releasing a video of SWAT Sgt. Tom Jenkins talking about getting COVID-19 after being skeptical of the vaccine, and how the disease nearly killed him.

A “significant number” of SWAT officers had not been vaccinated prior to the video, but now a majority of the officers have received their shots, Lombardo said.

The department is looking at copying the order for state employees to either be vaccinated or get regular COVID-19 tests. But Lombardo isn’t sure he has enough resources to follow suit.

“I’d rather not be the beta agency,” he said. “As the state is taking on that lift, I’ll be interested in the process.”

Employee deaths from COVID-19

Four Metro employees and one retired employee have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, Lombardo said. The most recent death was that of 48-year-old Phil Closi, who died Thursday due to “complications from COVID,” the Las Vegas Police Protective Association said in a Facebook post.

On Tuesday, the union shared a statement from Closi’s family, which described him as “an incredibly involved family man.”

“Phil approached every situation in life with an amazing sense of humor and a strong desire to help others,” the statement said. “He made friends wherever he went.”

Closi, a 21-year veteran of the department, worked at the northeast area command, the convention center area command and with the DARE and youth education section, the union said. He also served as a union representative for several years.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously, and condolences go out to his family,” Lombardo said Tuesday, adding that Closi’s death was a “great loss” for the department.

Lombardo said the department believes Closi contracted COVID-19 while on a family vacation in Texas. He said he did not know whether Closi was vaccinated.

A GoFundMe page was created for Closi’s family on Monday and had raised $920 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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