Dozens of Winnipeg first responders off work due to COVID-19: city

Winnipeg first responders are feeling the crunch of staffing shortages as Manitoba’s Omicron wave forces some businesses and hospitals to close. Both the Winnipeg Police Service and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service are battling COVID-19 cases.

The WPS counts 40 confirmed cases among its staff, Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin told Global News Thursday, adding that up to about 8 per cent of its almost 2,000 members are likely on sick leave relating to the virus.

Officers working general patrol are feeling the strain with the WPS struggling to maintain minimum staffing levels, even having dropped below minimum levels in the last few days because of the number of people calling in sick, Sabourin said.

Read more: Manitoba seeing higher rates of COVID-19 in health care workers, younger people

Police calls usually spike around the holidays, and Sabourin cautions Winnipeggers should expect wait times to get longer for lower priority situations.

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“I don’t think the citizens of Winnipeg have to worry about in an emergency situation that police aren’t going to show up,” Sabourin said. “But … say it’s a break-in to your home or there’s no suspect or the person’s long gone, it could be an extended period that they would have to wait for a cruiser car to attend to take a call.”

Contingency plans are in place to pull personnel from specialty units to general patrol should the pandemic push even more members to self-isolate, Sabourin said. As well, he said this latest wave is exacerbating an already fragile morale among the force.

“We’re very concerned about our members and the mental well-being of our members, you know, especially during this time of year when people are hopeful to meet with their family,” Sabourin said.

“Our members don’t have the ability to work from home, and they’re out there on a daily basis interacting with people that may have COVID,” he said. “It’s been a very stressful time over the past two years … as a result of COVID, in particular.”

“I think a lot of people thought we were coming out of the woods a little bit, and now we’re just dumped right back into the forest.”

Read more: COVID-19: Manitoba needs ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown, critical care doctors say

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Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief Christian Schmidt says his crews are also facing staffing challenges these last few days.

Around 3.8 per cent of 1,300 WFPS staff are infected with COVID, according to city figures, which amounts to a higher proportion than the WPS.

“I have to tell you, our members have stepped up to the plate on this one,” Schmidt told 680 CJOB Wednesday. “They have been filling the calls for relief shifts to come in to ensure that we’ve been able to pretty much fulfill all of our staffing requirements since Christmas Eve, so it’s a real promising thing.”

Thanks to lower than normal calls over the last few days, however, the pressure could be worse, Schmidt said.

“On the 26th and 27th night shifts, we did about 173 calls and 153 calls, respectively, and normally in a night like that, we’d expect to see between 200 and 250 calls,” Schmidt said. “That is in our favour right now in terms of the call volumes. If we start to see spikes in those call volumes, that will put additional strain on the resources and on our personnel.”

“We have contingency plans in place if we need to use them,” he said. “Hopefully not, but in the meantime, we’re looking to see what happens with these numbers.”

Through email correspondence Thursday, the city says it’s monitoring the situation closely with both departments managing to cover most staffing shortfalls through overtime.

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“Our Emergency Operations Centre is actively engaged in our response to COVID-19, including coordinating response efforts in consultation with civic departments, and ensuring the appropriate policies and procedures are in place to support the continuity of our essential services and the ongoing maintenance of our critical infrastructure.”

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Manitoba seeing higher rates of COVID-19 in health care workers

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