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Sheriff’s Office adjusts staffing after deputies test positive for COVID-19

Sheriff’s Office adjusts staffing after deputies test positive for COVID-19

After six Santa Barbara County sheriff’s employees, including four patrol deputies, tested positive for COVID-19 in March, the department has taken extra steps to protect personnel against the virus and slow its spread.

Two patrol deputies assigned to the Santa Maria station tested positive for coronavirus on March 27 and 28, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick.

Then two more Santa Maria-based deputies tested positive on March 30 and 31.

Additionally, a custody deputy tested positive on March 29, Zick said.

The positive results also include a civilian jail employee. A contracted Wellpath medical worker who's not an employee but also works at the jail also tested positive. 

To date, county public health officials have reported 152 coronavirus cases and one death from the disease.

Since then, the Sheriff’s Office has re-evaluated how to maintain its readiness while still conducting business as usual during the pandemic.

Patrol officers still maintain normal 12-hour shifts, and no mandatory overtime policies have been implemented, although some officers have volunteered for overtime to cover shifts.

Planned vacations have been canceled, however, because there’s nowhere to go, Zick said. 

“We’re still fully functioning,” Zick said. “We just changed the way we work to ensure that people are able to prevent spread.”

The biggest shift made by the Sheriff’s Office is moving to centralized scheduling. Supervisors have taken over scheduling and shifting staff throughout the county to positions that need to be covered.

Normally, scheduling is handled at individual stations, although supervisors are trying to keep deputies at a particular station similarly assigned, Zick added.

A ready reserve force of deputies was formed, which involves taking those assigned to specific units, such as detectives, and putting them back on patrol, if needed.

In addition, staff and officers are “sprinkled” throughout the county in separate sheriff’s facilities, such as in trailers behind the station — or even at home — to maintain distance from each other, Zick said.

A watch officer usually stationed at the front desk now is handling calls remotely.

“It’s really interesting walking the halls because everybody is spread out,” Zick said. “It’s a very different feel internally.”

More effort is also being taken to clean and disinfect sheriff's facilities, Zick said.

Every person assigned to the Santa Maria station has an N95 mask and goes through a screening procedure before starting the workday.

All touched surfaces are wiped down frequently, and patrol cars are cleaned before they leave. Cleaning supplies — spray bottles, sanitizing wipes, etc. — are readily available throughout the stations.

Although Zick could not provide an exact number, she said the Sheriff's Office has made additional purchases of cleaning supplies and masks.

It’s a balancing act of getting the most cost-effective supplies and having them in general, she added.

One solution is for the Sheriff's Office to produce its own supplies. On Saturday, a group of inmates in the sheriff’s treatment program will make 1,200 face shields to have in the reserve, Zick said.

The face shields are like visors with a piece of clear plastic that covers the entire face and will be worn by officers when, and if, they need them.

“We’re taking measures and we’re sticking to them,” Zick said. “That’s what’s going to get us through this for the duration.”

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

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