After lengthy deliberations Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will consider instating a vaccine mandate or testing requirement for all county employees.
During the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Gregg Hart proposed the implementation of a vaccine or testing mandate for all county workers in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.
As numerous organizations, businesses and even the Pentagon are unveiling new vaccination mandates following the FDA’s approval, Mr. Hart told the supervisors that now is the time for the county to adopt a mandate in the interest of community safety.
“This policy will promote safety in the county workplace and among the general public because sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, building inspectors and many other county employees come into regular contact with members of the community,” Mr. Hart said.
The mandate, if passed, would require that all Santa Barbara County employees either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. Other specifics surrounding the mandate, including how frequently unvaccinated employees would need to be tested, were not specifically outlined during Tuesday’s meeting.
After much discussion, the board voted 3-2 to direct staff from the County’s Executive Office to develop a policy for the implementation of a vaccine/testing mandate among county employees. Board Chair Bob Nelson and Supervisor Steve Lavagnino were opposed to the measure. The board will vote whether to instate a vaccine mandate during its regular meeting next Tuesday.
The board’s decision to consider a vaccine mandate came after a lengthy public comment period on Tuesday, where nearly 20 public commenters addressed the board in opposition of the impending vaccination mandate.
A number of public commenters likened the potential vaccine mandate to “tyranny” or an “overreach” of authority, with some going as far to say the supervisors were operating similar to the “Nazi regime.”
One public commentator, Michael Moore, told supervisors that he’s been with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department for 13 years, but would be willing to walk away from his job if the board moved to instate a mandate for county employees. During his comments, he told supervisors that if a vaccine requirement is instated, they would be operating similar to “how Hitler and the SS ran Germany.”
“This is tyranny, and it’s knocking on our doorsteps,” Mr. Moore said. “It’s unfathomable to me that any person can say it’s OK for them to force a medical procedure, a vaccine in this case, on another human being.”
A number of other public commenters expressed anger about the county’s handling of COVID-19, claiming that protective measures such as mask mandates and lockdowns were “unwarranted.” One public commenter, Chris Aringer, a first responder with the city of Santa Barbara, claimed the mandates do not align with the scale of the COVID-19 problem in the county.
“The COVID problem is statistically not enough of an issue to warrant what we’ve been subjected to in terms of lockdowns, in terms of masking wearing, in terms of potential vaccination mandates, and this is where my concerns and considerations actually lie,” Mr. Aringer said.
Other public commenters called on the board to “uphold the right of choice” during Tuesday’s meeting, telling the supervisors that they risk losing a number of firefighters, deputies and first responders if they move forward with a mandate.
In response to the public commenters, Supervisor Das Williams denounced those who compared the current state of the pandemic to that of the Nazi regime, telling the public that his own family members lived under Nazism and even spent time in a prisoner of war camp.
“When people oppose a mandate that gives you the choice between taking a vaccine and getting a weekly test by invoking words like ‘tyranny,’ ‘Nazisim’ and ‘genocide,’ it clearly reveals that you know nothing about tyranny, Nazism and genocide,” Mr. Williams said. “And to me, as someone whose family has experienced it, you dishonor their bones.”
Mr. Williams, alongside Mr. Hart and Supervisor Joan Hartmann, defended the need for a vaccine mandate in response to public commenters, saying that because county workers interact with the public on a regular basis, a vaccine mandate is needed to protect community members who they regularly come in contact with.
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino also weighed in on the discussion, calling the continued references to Nazi Germany “disturbing.” Though Mr. Lavagnino voted against the vaccination mandate for employees at this time, he said he is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated. During the discussion, he called the public comment period “the greatest commercial ever to get vaccinated.”
In Santa Barbara County, one in three people eligible for the vaccine remain unvaccinated, according to Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county’s public health director. This is taking its toll on the county’s case rates, which are occurring 3.9 times more likely among unvaccinated individuals than vaccinated individuals, the public health director added.
According to Public Health data, the case rate among unvaccinated individuals was 37.3 per 100,000 on Aug. 14. This is high compared to the rate among vaccinated individuals, which hovered around 9.5 per 100,000 around the same period.
With this rise in cases, Dr. Do-Reynoso said the county has tracked an increase in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks, noting that hospitalizations jumped from 35 to 77 over the course of two weeks. Given this current trend, the public health director said hospitalizations will likely continue to rise and likely peak in the next five to six weeks.