Undersheriff Sol Linver answers questions about the Main Jail COVID-19 outbreak during Tuesday’s Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Undersheriff Sol Linver answers questions about the Main Jail COVID-19 outbreak during Tuesday’s Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting.  (Screenshot via Santa Barbara County)

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Main Jail may have been started by an infected Sheriff’s Office employee, Undersheriff Sol Linver told the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

People booked into custody at the facility are tested for the novel coronavirus, held in the inmate receiving center for 10 days, tested again, and then transferred to the adjacent jail facility with the general population, Linver said.

Given those protocols, board Chairman Bob Nelson asked, how did the month-long outbreak start?

“We are still doing tracing on that. There is the feasibility that it was an employee who brought it in,” Linver said.  

“We did test all the employees who had contact with that module, we went back eight days I believe, and we did have two employees – three employees – that tested positive.”

Two of those employees were unvaccinated, and one was fully vaccinated, he said.

More than 80 inmates have been infected in the current outbreak that started Aug. 20, and three of them have been taken to the hospital for antibody treatments.

“We’ve had three different outbreaks, if you will, over the past month,” Linver said.

He said seven of the currently infected 60 people in custody at the jail have symptoms, while the rest do not. He also said that 24 of the people with active cases are fully vaccinated, while the rest are unvaccinated.  

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said 62% of the custody staff members are fully vaccinated and about 35% of the 616 people in custody are fully vaccinated.

All Santa Barbara County employees, including custody deputies and other jail staff, are required to verify their vaccination status by Sept. 30 or be tested weekly.

There is a separate state COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers that applies to some county employees in the Public Health Department, Behavioral Wellness Department, and “specific employees” in correctional and detention facilities, Director of Human Resources Maria Elena De Guevara said Tuesday.  

The deadline is Sept. 30 for most of the clinic groups, and the correctional and detention employees have until Oct. 14, she said.

So far, 72% of countywide employees have verified their vaccination status, and there are additional people who have indicated they are partially vaccinated, she said.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked Linver whether custody deputies who work in the Main Jail fall under the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, and he did not have a clear answer.

“Um, yes and no,” Linver said.

“We’re waiting to get discussions with CSSA (California State Sheriff’s Association) attorneys as well as our own attorneys because the way that the mandate reads is a facility that offers medical treatment, which is a little bit more than ours.”

Zick told Noozhawk Monday that only workers at Wellpath — the contracted vendor for in-jail medical services including COVID-19 testing — are required to be vaccinated by the state’s Aug. 19 health order.

A July 26 state public health order requires all unvaccinated workers in high-risk congregate settings, including local correctional facilities, to undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week.

Custody staff members are being tested twice a week regardless of vaccination status, according to Linver.  

The Aug. 19 state public health order requires workers in specific correctional health care facilities to prove vaccination by Oct. 14 or get approval for a reasonable medical or religious exemption.

Staff subject to this order cannot opt out of vaccination or be tested instead of being vaccinated, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Workers subject to this order include “workers providing health care to inmates, prisoners, and detainees, as well as persons not directly involved in delivering health care, but who could be exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted in the health care setting (e.g., clerical, dietary, janitorial services, laundry, correctional officers, facilities maintenance staff, administrative, inmate workers, and volunteer personnel).”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.