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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.
By Tyler Hayden of The Independent
Eight weeks after Santa Barbara issued a vaccine or testing warrant for all county employees, 108 unvaccinated sheriff’s deputies still have not submitted for weekly testing, according to data from the county’s human resources department. The group represents 37% of the 292 “law enforcement deputies” in the sheriff’s office, most of whom are on patrol. The department’s 250 “guard deputies” at the main prison, however, are either vaccinated or actively tested, according to the data.
Holders remain concerned about the confidentiality of their medical information, said Joe Pisano, head of employee relations at human resources. They are uncomfortable with the amount of information they are asked to provide, he explained, as well as their safety when collected, along with their test results, by an external testing company. and ultimately shared with the California Department of Public Health. Concerns have also been expressed that the company, which has a former tech executive on board, will attempt to monetize information in one way or another. “I do not share these concerns, but I understand them,” said Pisano.
Pisano said he has met almost every week since September with members of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA) union, which represents 94 of the untested MPs. “It’s just a tough question,” he said. Not all members may be as convinced about the issue as their DSA leadership, he said, “but they tend to band together.” It’s also unclear when the county can decide to take a firmer stance, Pisano continued, but he hopes negotiations will come to an end before disciplinary action is needed. “We are not trying to stress people out,” he said. Switching to a different test company may be one of the solutions.
Supervisor Das Williams, who received considerable support from the DSA in the last election, said he was “anxious” for the end of the talks and the start of the swabs. Sheriff Bill Brown objected to the characterization that MPs simply refuse to be tested. “’Refuse’ is really not an accurate description of what’s going on,” he said. To complicate matters, the DSA is in separate negotiations with the county over its 2022 employment contract.
The President of the DSA, Staff Sgt. Neil Gowing blamed the delay mainly on scheduling issues. “Most of the delays are simply due to getting dates that allow all parties to sit down, talk and work out the details,” he said. “But we are doing well. Gowing said the DSA will continue to work with the county to “work out all the details as soon as possible, while being careful not to neglect our duties and our oath to the community members we serve and the victims we defend.” ”
Meanwhile, Santa Barbara County is seeing a slight increase in COVID-19 cases amid the winter break and the spread of the Omicron variant. Active cases have increased 6 percent over the past two weeks, while the rate of daily cases per 100,000 unvaccinated residents has risen from 16.6 to 24.1. Hospitalizations increased by 34% over the same period and intensive care admissions by 120%. Statewide, the daily average of new infections has increased by 50% since Thanksgiving.