Lakeland City Hall

The recent surge in COVID-19 infections is being felt at Lakeland City Hall. During August, 154 city employees tested positive for the virus. That is almost three times the 53 infected last December, the previous high month. And it represents 28.6% of the total 539 cases reported among city workers since April 2020.

As of Wednesday, 53 city employees with COVID were off from work, representing 2.5% of the city’s current workforce of 2,163. Nineteen of the 53 had been out for at least 10 days.

The figures for infections among city employees come from a graphic that is updated daily and circulated to the city’s top managers. Here is the graphic that was distributed Wednesday, which included August’s totals:

As the chart shows, many more men were infected with the virus — 413, compared with 126 women. There have been more cases in the city’s largest departments — police (126 cases), electric utility (100) and fire (84), which traditionally have had more male employees.

The city does not track the number of employees who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, city spokesman Kevin Cook responded when asked for the numbers of employees who have been hospitalized or have died.

For the last few weeks, city employees have been required to wear face coverings at work while indoors or in city vehicles when unable to maintain social distancing of six feet.

But unlike the early days of COVID-19 in spring 2020, when more than half of non-emergency city employees were able to work from home, most are not currently able to work remotely.

“For now, as expected by the public we serve, we will continue to serve the Lakeland community in their public facilities, with very limited exceptions for prevailing business and operational needs,” City Manager Shawn Sherrouse wrote in an email to employees last month. “Governor DeSantis has issued a number of executive orders related to the ‘re-opening’ of the state and requirements for public access to public meetings, facilities and services. All City of Lakeland facilities have re-opened and are providing front-facing services to our customers and citizens.”

Sherrouse closed with a message about the risks that come with public service: “We are all public servants and with this awesome responsibility comes some associated risks. Thank you for accepting these risks and for continuing to serve our community during such concerning times. I remain hopeful for healthier days ahead.”

Polk County has been hit hard during the current COVID surge, with new records for infections being set for the previous five weeks. Polk added 7,510 new COVID-19 cases last week, and its rate of 1,043.5 cases per 100,000 populations was 13th highest among Florida’s 67 counties.

The next weekly update from the Florida Department of Health is expected late this afternoon.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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