Miami Beach Police Officer Edward Perez lost his battle with COVID this week, the second City employee to succumb to the virus and the fourth South Florida law enforcement officer in the past week. The 25-year veteran was remembered as a “down-to-earth guy” who made everyone feel like they’d known him forever. Perez, who was 55, leaves a wife and daughter. Officers in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and a Florida Highway Patrol officer also died of COVID in the last week alone. On Friday, a fifth officer, a 43-year-old with the Coral Springs Police Department passed away.
Miami Beach FOP President Paul Ozaeta said, “Eddie Perez was a very good guy… He was already on the Department when I started 21 years ago. He was a very down to earth guy, a straight shooter. He told it like it was. He was very friendly, the type of guy you could have met him today for the first time and felt like you knew him all your life… He spoke to you like he was your next-door neighbor. We’re going to miss him.”
Ozaeta later shared this photo of Perez with a note, "He was a happy guy, and I think this pic really captures that..."
Last month, a 55-year-old park ranger became the first City employee to die of COVID.
At the City Commission meeting on July 28, City Manager Alina Hudak expressed concern about the surging Delta variant and the low vaccination rate among City employees. At the time, she said, less than 30 percent had voluntarily indicated they had been vaccinated.
“That is a percentage that concerns me tremendously,” Hudak said. “It is something that I personally have been extremely committed to.”
“We’ve done anything and everything we can possibly do,” she added. “I’ve sent messages to all of our employees… We’ve encouraged department directors and, in every situation, where we are gathered together, we all talk about the importance of protecting each other and protecting the public that we serve. That is a message that has been repeated consistently throughout the last three months, obviously, since the vaccine became readily available at every age group.”
“At a particular moment [in July], we had more individuals infected and positive with COVID in our Police Department than we had at the height of COVID,” Hudak told Commissioners, something she discussed with police and union leadership.
FOP President Ozaeta told RE:MiamiBeach 181 officers have had COVID since the pandemic began in March 2020. That’s nearly half the total number of 404 officers active today ranging from the rank and file up to command staff. He said one officer remains hospitalized with COVID.
Ozaeta is one of those who contracted the virus. He came down with it between his first and second vaccine, the timing of which he believes was a coincidence unrelated to his getting the shot. He acknowledges the skepticism around vaccinations with "so much information and misinformation out there."
“I was initially a little skeptical as well,” Ozaeta admitted. He heard the concerns about the vaccines being rushed and whether it was safe but, he said, he decided “I’m going to do it because of my family.” Ozaeta has a wife and two children in their 20’s “which are at the prime age for being exposed to the virus. Both my parents are in their 80’s which are the prime people to be killed by the virus," he added.
In the meantime, Ozaeta said he’s been reading up on the history of vaccines and the opposition to them which, he notes, has been around since the smallpox vaccination was introduced in the early 1800s. “It’s one of those things. It’s not really new… Vaccine hesitancy is as old as vaccines themselves.”
Asked if Perez' death might changed minds of those around him, Ozaeta said, "Unfortunately, people are very skeptical about putting something in their body that they don’t feel familiar with… I decided for my family I’m going to get the vaccine. I can understand people are concerned about long-term effects and how rushed the vaccine was [but] even if you can legitimately say, 'Yes, the vaccine may have long-term effects,' it’s the roll of the dice isn’t it between [any potential] negative side effects down the road and something that can kill you today?"
Photo (top): Miami Beach Police Department
Tweet below from MBPD Chief Richard Clements on Thursday, August 19
Miami Beach Police Officer Dies of COVID:
25-year veteran is second City employee to succumb to the virus