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With vaccination rates lower than other first responders, Austin police are getting tested weekly for COVID

 Austin Police Department officers at Zilker Park for the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 4, 2019.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The Austin Police Department announced Wednesday that it will be requiring officers to be tested for COVID-19 every week.

The Austin Police Department says it has started testing officers weekly for COVID-19.

“We will begin testing our frontline personnel … once a week, until we get to a point where we feel we don’t need to test,” APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay said at a news conference Wednesday evening. He said testing would be mandatory.

The department later clarified that frontline personnel means anyone who interacts with the public, such as patrol officers.

Officers will have the opportunity to object to testing, as well as vaccinations, through either a medical, religious or "moral" exemption, APD Health and Wellness Director Rick Randall told KUT.

Fifty-five percent of police have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through Austin’s Public Safety Wellness Center, a vaccination site for first responders run by the city.

“But we know a number of our employees got vaccinated elsewhere,” Randall said, estimating the real number is closer to 63%.

Even if that higher estimate is true, the Austin Police Department has the lowest vaccination rate among the city’s first responders despite having access to vaccines months before the general population.

In August, a spokesperson for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services told KUT that 88% of uniformed staff have been vaccinated, while a spokesperson for the Austin Fire Department said 78% of employees who responded to a survey said they'd been fully vaccinated.

APD continues to report a low rate of vaccination even as two officers died of the virus in August. APD Chief Joseph Chacon would not say whether the officers had been vaccinated against COVID.

The city’s other public safety departments told KUT they’ve been testing employees since January. Spokespersons for EMS and the AFD said medics and frontline personnel get a rapid test before every work shift.

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