Sheriff Bill Brown promotes nine deputies in 2017, including Neil Gowing (far left), current president of the Deputy Sheriff's Association. | Credit: Courtesy

Three months after Santa Barbara County’s vaccine-or-test mandate for its workforce went into effect, officials say they are close to reaching an agreement with approximately 100 Sheriff’s deputies who remain both unvaccinated and untested

“The good news is, we’re close to a resolution,” said Joe Pisano with the county’s Human Resources Department, explaining that tentatively switching from a national testing provider to a local one seems to have mollified the patrol deputies’ concerns over their medical privacy. But when the process can actually begin remains to be seen. “Unfortunately, the Omicron surge has narrowed the bandwidth of all the parties,” Pisano said, “so I cannot say for sure when a potential contract might be in place.”

The holdup, Pisano said, has hinged on an agreement clause within registration materials used by the county’s original provider, Color, a Bay Area–based health technology firm that conducts large-scale COVID-19 testing for private companies and public agencies across the country. It reads: “I understand that my personal and health-related information (including my results) will be shared with clinical and other staff at the testing site, as well as the California Department of Public Health, for treatment and follow-up care purposes.”

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The deputies took that language to mean any and all of their medical information, including information unrelated to their COVID tests, could be disseminated, despite assurances from county officials. “I do not believe Color would have access to any medical information aside from the test results,” Pisano said. 

But to assuage any lingering worries, the county is now in talks with Aptitude, a Goleta biotech company that, unlike Color, does all its sample collecting and processing in-house. “The deputies like that it’s local,” Pisano said, “and they like that it’s one-stop shopping.” Aptitude is currently providing its services to Santa Barbara schools. A representative said because a contract was not yet in place, he could not provide even a rough timeline of when their work with the deputies might begin.

The Deputy Sheriff’s Association has led the negotiations with the county. The union’s president, Sgt. Neil Gowing, said of the pending compromise, “We are happy that we were able to find a solution that was acceptable to both parties and also to keep our business local.”

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