Calif. sheriff says he will not enforce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Riverside County has not issued formal directives on vaccine requirements for its employees

By Hayley Smith
Los Angeles Times

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — As President Biden escalates his administration's efforts to require Americans to get vaccinated, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco says he will not enforce any vaccine mandates for Sheriff's Department employees.

Describing himself as "the last line of defense from tyrannical government overreach," Bianco on Monday doubled down on statements he made during a Thursday episode of the department's podcast, "RSO Roundup," in which he said he believes vaccines are a personal choice.

"The government has no ability and no authority to mandate your health choices," Bianco said in a statement. "I will not enforce the vaccine mandate on Sheriff's Department employees."

In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a health order requiring state workers to provide proof of vaccination or submit to regular COVID-19 testing. Some counties, including Los Angeles, have gone a step further by mandating vaccines for municipal employees — a move that already has spurred a lawsuit from some members of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Riverside County has not issued formal directives on vaccination requirements for its employees. A spokesperson for the county did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

But Bianco, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year, has long been an outspoken opponent of mandatory vaccinations and other pandemic policies. Last year, he derided stay-at-home orders as "ridiculous" and told The Times there were differing opinions on the benefits of masks and social distancing.

In the podcast last week, he questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine and said that natural immunity from COVID-19 provides "far more" protection than the shots.

"There is absolutely nothing in my podcast that was incorrect or irresponsible," he said Monday, adding: "I am certainly not anti-vaccine. I am anti-vaccine for me."

Bianco said he did not know how many deputies have been vaccinated, but noted that at least 1,500 have tested positive for COVID-19. At least two Riverside County sheriff's deputies have died.

Biden, Newsom and other government and public health officials have emphasized the importance of vaccinations as a pathway out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in recent months has undergone a resurgence as the highly transmissible Delta variant rips through unvaccinated communities.

The country is now averaging more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths per day, with Biden stating that "our patience is wearing thin."

"A distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner," Biden said. "We can't allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal."

Over the past week, Riverside County has averaged 675 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths per day, according to The Times' tracker.

About 57% of Riverside County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to about 66% of residents statewide.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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