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Metro SWAT officer says COVID vaccine skepticism nearly cost him his life

Updated July 23, 2021 - 7:27 pm

A Las Vegas police sergeant who initially was skeptical of COVID-19 and the vaccine is sharing his story of how he got the virus and how it nearly killed him.

Sgt. Tom “T.J.” Jenkins talked about the experience in a video posted to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Twitter and YouTube pages.

“I was that skeptical dude that I thought COVID was a joke,” Jenkins said. “I thought it was just another flu, and I was like, ‘Hey

let’s just go ahead, everybody just get it, be done with it, and let’s move on.’ I was also anti-mask. I thought the mask was silly. I didn’t think that this was that serious, to be honest with you.”

Jenkins, who is assigned to the police SWAT team, tested positive for COVID-19 on June 24. He said his first thought was he would just isolate and quickly recover.

“July 1 I couldn’t breathe anymore,” Jenkins said. “I jumped up, I jumped in the car, and I drove myself to (University Medical Center). And at that time I was admitted to UMC for approximately eight or nine days.”

He said the virus nearly killed him, adding that “it’s like someone put a bag around your head and duct-taped it to your neck where you can’t breathe.”

Jenkins, who is still recovering, said four of his co-workers on the team of 32 also got sick. All four had not been vaccinated.

“We just happened to be the five that didn’t get the vaccine,” he said.

He encouraged people, including his co-workers, to get vaccinated and to wear a mask when needed. Las Vegas police said recently that 48 percent of the department’s employees are vaccinated.

The Las Vegas Valley law enforcement community has endured repeated losses from COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

They include officer Jason Swanger, 41, who died from COVID-19 on June 24; retired Las Vegas police Detective Michael Karstedt, 70, who died Jan. 3 from complications of COVID-19; Lt. Erik Lloyd, 53, who died July 29 after nearly 30 years with Metro and serving as president of the Injured Police Officers Fund since January 2004, where he coordinated fundraising efforts for wounded officers and their families; and Metro civilian employee John Melwak, 70, who died Oct. 23.

Melwak was a patrol services representative assigned to the northwest area command and had been with the department since 2003.

“Go get the shot,” Jenkins said. “Get it for your family. Get it for your co-workers. Get it for your friends. Get it for your spouses. Get it for your kids. COVID is not a joke. I’m here to tell you it almost took me off this planet.”

Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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