Nine Santa Barbara Sheriff Staff Test Positive for COVID-19

Concerns Grow over Inmate Safety

Nine employees at the Santa Barbara County Jail tested positive for COVID-19, though only one of them is a custody deputy who had regular contact with inmates. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

On Thursday afternoon, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department announced that nine custody staff workers tested positive for COVID-19 and that several additional County Jail workers are awaiting results. Of the nine employees, the press release from the Sheriff’s Office states four are civilian workers employed in Custody Records and are removed from inmates; five are custody deputies, only one of whom has direct contact with inmates on a regular basis; and the others work in administrative roles.

According to the release, none of the 568 inmates in the jail’s population are currently displaying symptoms of COVID-19, though two inmates who displayed symptoms while being booked into the jail are being held for a two-week quarantine in the Inmate Reception Center. According to the Sheriff’s Office, all staff are being tested for COVID-19. 

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However, in the jail’s cramped conditions, concerns that COVID-19 could run rampant if inmates became infected have animated conversations about the jail’s sanitary and safety response. Public officials and government watchdog groups have called for the release of medically vulnerable inmates to the maximum degree compatible with public safety. Since mid-March, the Sheriff’s Office has released more than 300 inmates — low-level offenders and many who were being held in pre-trial detention due to their inability to pay bail. This was done to decrease the risk of an outbreak that could jeopardize inmates and staff. 

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said that they “are continuing with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] suggested protocol that we have been following since this began.”

Two Sheriff’s deputies assigned to the courthouse as bailiffs were also potentially exposed to an employee at the courthouse who tested positive for COVID-19. Both are currently self-quarantining at home without symptoms, according to the Sheriff’s Office. 

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