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'Retirements are a concern': Mayor Adler discusses Austin Police Department, COVID-19

Here's what he told KVUE's Yvonne Nava in a Q&A.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-Travis County is under Stage 5 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, and ICU beds in the area are filling up.

According to health officials, fewer than 50% of all hospital beds are available as of Monday morning.

Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE Daybreak Monday to talk about the virus and the Austin Police Department. Here's what he told KVUE's Yvonne Nava in a Q&A.

Nava: Mayor, Chief Brian Manley tested positive for coronavirus, and critics tell us that officers aren't being equipped with enough PPE. Some are having to reuse their masks. So, what is the city doing to protect its officers during this pandemic?

Adler: Well, I'll check on that, because my understanding is that we had stockpiled PPE for the police. And obviously, we want to make sure that they have all the equipment that they need. So that's something that I've got that I'll check on. I know that the Emergency Operations Command has been working for months looking at the possibility of a new surge. So let me take a look at that. Our thoughts are with Chief Manley as well as with the almost 5,000 active cases we have in the city right now. But our police and our first responders are incredibly important to our city and among the first we need to protect.

Nava: You recently voiced your support for a police cadet class in the spring. You know, many are wondering why the 180? Is it because there are so many retirements and resignations within the police department since the budget cuts? And why are so many officers leaving?

Adler: You know, when we took the money and redistributed about 4 or 5% of the budget last summer, we set up a process halfway through the year to revisit the question of cadet classes. So we're just doing that process that we set up last summer. My belief is, is that the city's gotten, I hope, far enough along with taking a look at the curriculum, which was the important thing, to make sure that the culture that we wanted was being taught to the cadets' school to get us to the place where we could reinstate one of the cadet classes. And I think that's an important thing for us to do. It's those cadet classes that become the cultural change agents in our system.

Nava: What about those resignations and retirements? 

Adler: Well, you know, the changes in platooning of police officers really don't take place until later next month. Obviously, retirements are a concern. We have a certain number that just happens among the force. That's almost 2,000 people. But, yes, it's a concern.

Nava: And that's one of the reasons why you need cadet classes right. Now that we are in Stage 5 COVID-19 restrictions, what are some of the changes that we're now seeing given Stage 5? 

Alder's response: Well, the positivity rate in our city now is up just over 10%, it appears, which means that there's a decent chance when you're sitting at a table next to somebody that you don't know, there's a significant chance they could have the virus. So the Stage 5 rules that we have now in place are asking people really not to dine inside at restaurants, to be outside, to be outside at restaurants with low occupancy, really to avoid gatherings unless they're essential, especially during this holiday period of time. We're asking people not to stay out late and not to go to bars where people are milling around. Certainly, wear your mask whenever you're around anybody who's not in your home, you should be wearing a mask. You should be distancing because we're seeing a spike in the numbers.

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Nava: And that's the concern on the heels of those recommendations. Bar owners, restaurant owners tell us, you know, those rules or those restrictions don't pay the bills and that they've been jumping through hoops to stay open. So what would you like to say to these frustrated business owners? 

Adler: I know the pain that you guys are going through and in what you're doing for the greater good of the city, it's not targeting restaurants or bars. It's targeting activities where people are sitting across the table from one another, not wearing masks, which is what happens at a restaurant, at a bar. But as a community, we have to do what we can to really support those businesses. So if you're able, you should be doing a lot of takeout, you should be doing a lot of delivery. You should be buying gift cards. You should be over tipping your waitstaff. A lot of these restaurants and bars make a lot of their yearly income during this period of time. So if you're able to please support these businesses, do it. Takeout and delivery would be best, but it's up to us right now as we take care of the health side of the pandemic to also support our local businesses on the business side.

Nava: And Mayor, you wrote in your holiday letter that we have the power to impact whether or not our hospitals are overrun. And as mayor, what can you do, given your position to stop the cycle? 

Adler: Everybody wants to get off the ride. And the great news is we have a vaccine coming now and it's rolling out and it's getting to people. The predictions that I'm seeing indicate that everybody who wants the vaccine will probably have had the chance to get it as we go into the summer. So we just have to hang on because we're going to be wearing masks and doing that discipline. All the while we're rolling out the vaccine. If people could just hang in a little bit longer. I think that this series of holidays, the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by the Christmas holiday, followed by New Year's Eve, the toughest test that we're going to get. So we need to wear masks, avoid large groups, wash your hands, social distance. I know it's hard, but I think and I hope this is the last of the really big crunch times that we're going to have to face. And having the power to actually impact the numbers is a huge power that we have. And there is some peace in knowing that we get to control what happens to us if we all hang together as a community. 

Nava: And you mentioned the vaccinations. So the distribution process is going smoothly, then where are we at right now?

Adler: It is going very smoothly. It's just started out. We're getting it to the people that are most in danger of having the most serious repercussions if they get the virus. Also, our front line folks that are dealing with the people that are sick, we're going to be moving to the people that are older in our community. We're going to be moving to the essential workers that have medical conditions that make them more susceptible for several months now. We've had the plan. We've been refining it, and now we're executing it. How there are going to be more and more places around the city that you could go to get the vaccine when your turn comes. So it's rolling out now. And it's wonderful to see.

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