As coronavirus outbreaks continue to hit county government workplaces, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has the lowest vaccination rate among county departments, according to data from county officials.
Only 16% of the sheriff’s staff have self-certified having been vaccinated last week, according to data obtained through a public records request.
At Tuesday’s OC supervisors meeting, county health official Dr Clayton Chau said about 68% of people 12 and older in the county were fully vaccinated.
The largest ongoing outbreak among county government workers is at the Sheriff’s Prison and Headquarters Complex, with 21 staff members infected so far.
The Sheriff’s Union of Deputies has opposed a state mandate requiring the vaccination of prison workers and some court workers, and is considering legal action against the warrant.
Officials previously said the warrant would apply to about 1,500 of the sheriff’s department’s 3,800 employees.
In response to Voice of OC’s questions about the outbreak, sheriff officials said they were quarantining all new inmates to prevent the introduction of the coronavirus into the prison, and none of the 15 currently positive inmates have got infected in prison.
“Everyone who enters jail is quarantined in a new reservation until they are there for 14 days. Then, after receiving a negative COVID test, they are released “to the general population of the prison, said Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun.
Prisons are at higher risk for epidemics, county health officials said last week.
“We know that in any gathering setting, people are at risk of contracting the virus,” Chau, the county health worker, said at a press conference last week.
Vaccines continue to be offered to all detainees, he added.
“So every person that goes into jail, in the orientation process, sheriff’s deputies who work in jail make them an offer to see if they want the vaccine. And it happens every day, ”Chau said, adding that the vaccine acceptance rate in prisons was around 40%.
Coronavirus infections at work were the leading killer of U.S. police officers last year as well as the first half of this year.
Meanwhile, more than 130 county employees have been infected so far this month at work, amid outbreaks in eight offices and buildings.
That’s more than double the number of county employees infected on the job in July, and 18 times more than those infected on the job in June.
Areas with active outbreaks include the Central Prison and Sheriff’s Department Headquarters Complex in Santa Ana, the 6th floor of the District Attorney’s Headquarters, and four Social Services Agency offices – one in Santa Ana, one in Laguna Hills and two in Anaheim, according to county data.
The outbreaks come as county public health officials said current trends in the outbreak mirror the wave from last summer.
[Read: Orange County Rising Coronavirus Trends Start to Mirror Last Summer’s Surge]
OC officials have not publicly announced the outbreaks or the extent of the infections.
The prosecutor’s office outbreak has involved four employees who have tested positive since late July, officials said.
“Within an hour of receiving notification of the initial positive test, OCDA’s human resources manager contacted County Risk Management to initiate the appropriate protocols,” DA spokesperson Kimberly Edds said.
“Each employee on the 6th floor is required to wear a face covering at all times, unless they are alone in an office with the door closed. Failure to comply with this directive will result in disciplinary action, ”she added.
Employees have the option of taking tests at home, Edds said.
“Home test kits were made available to employees and the human resources manager was in constant contact with OCDA management as well as with employee unions regarding the necessary safety protocols as well as employee concerns, ”she said.
There was no immediate comment Tuesday afternoon on the outbreaks from OC’s Social Services Agency, nor from the employee union leader who represents sheriff’s deputies and DA investigators.
The union leader who represents two-thirds of the county’s employees calls on managers to demand masks in workplaces for people who fail to prove they are vaccinated, and to extend working from home to the extent possible .
“When the state released its new workplace guidelines in June, county leaders decided to allow the most minimal surveillance. And they never imposed audit requirements on the public, ”said Charles Barfield, CEO of the Orange County Employees Association.
“Now two months later; this decision results in an increase in the number of cases (10 cases in June and more than 170 to date for August). The county’s own internal reports show that over 70% of positive cases occur at work, ”he continued.
A union representative of workers eligible for social services says protecting workers from infection is also about protecting the public they serve by helping them obtain services such as food stamps.
” What’s the point [members of the public] if they die in two weeks from Covid they caught in the lobby? said Cory Cordova, a union representative to AFSCME Council 36.
Social service officials “still haven’t informed us if they inform the [public that they’re entering a hot zone” of Covid at the offices that are in outbreak status, Cordova said.
“The community, we ask that they pray for us. One of our [union] leaders is at home with her daughter who has Covid right now. “
The highest vaccination rates are found among supervisory board staff (76%), the treasurer-tax collector (68%) and the county general manager’s office (63%).
Among Orange County Fire Authority employees, 54% of operating staff – such as firefighters and paramedics – and 65% of administrative staff were vaccinated when the agency offered the vaccines, a carrier said. word of the agency last week.
OCFA does not have data on the number of additional staff vaccinated elsewhere, spokesman Captain Thanh Nguyen said.
It’s unclear if there are currently any outbreaks in OC Superior Court, after several people at the Harbor Justice Center tested positive in late July – prompting the court to put in place a temporary mask warrant for a few days until August 4.
Court spokesman Kostas Kalaitzidis had no information about the outbreak when contacted for comment on Tuesday, but said he was working to bring them together.
County social service workers called on leaders to reverse their policy of allowing residents to wait without masks in the lobby and revert to the previous approach of handling most public interactions outside and by. telephone.
“I’m worried that someone is getting sick from our lobbies,” said Diana Corral, county employment specialist at the county regional office in Anaheim, in a recent interview with Voice of OC.
“As much as the employees are trying to help customers as fast as they can, as efficiently… sometimes you end up having to help someone for half an hour, 45 minutes… so you have people sitting there in the lobby.
Corral said residents unknowingly walked around hot spots.
“With these offices in an epidemic state right now, what is really upsetting is that they are not informing the public that they are entering a facility that has been placed in an epidemic state,” he said. said Corral, who is also president of the union representing the County Eligibility Workers, Local 2076.
Jamie Cargo, spokesperson for the Social Services Agency, previously said state officials are demanding essential workers be in offices to help residents apply for and receive benefits and other social programs. .
“During difficult times, the HSO must ensure that clients have access to basic services in a timely manner. This can include meeting customers in a way they would like to be served and resolving access constraints for those who may not have internet or phone access, ”Cargo said in a report. -mail earlier this month.
Additionally, Cargo said, plexiglass barriers and masks are provided to employees – along with increased disinfection procedures.
Current guidelines from the Department of Public Health allow fully vaccinated people to drop their masks indoors through what is called a self-attestation process.
Guidelines can also verify immunization status through paperwork or simply require everyone to wear a mask.
Barfield said it was time for county officials to update workplace protocols.
“It is out of time for the county to implement common sense approaches such as enlarged face coverings in public buildings for those who cannot or do not want to prove their vaccination status and the expansion of telecommuting. for the county workforce, to the extent possible, ”he said.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected]