Unvaccinated Riverside County Sheriff’s Department employees who work in the county’s five jails are being tested twice a week for the coronavirus in compliance with a state public health order, Sheriff Chad Bianco said Tuesday, Sept. 14.

A state directive issued July 26 requires anyone working in a California jail or prison to be vaccinated or, if they’re not vaccinated, to be tested for the coronavirus two times a week.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Bianco said: “We have extensive internal protocols and regulations which follow the state order requiring employees to either voluntarily report their vaccination status; obtain either a religious or medical exemption; or they will be required to be tested regularly in compliance with state regulations.” The “protocols” have been in place since before the state’s deadline, his statement said.

Bianco and the department’s media information bureau could not be reached late Tuesday afternoon to elaborate on the protocols and when they were put into place.

Bianco’s Tuesday statement came after The Press-Enterprise reported the sheriff will not require current employees or department job applicants to be vaccinated against the virus.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, seen Feb. 22, 2021, said Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, that unvaccinated workers in county jails are being tested for the coronavirus and that state mandates are being followed. (File photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Sheriff’s officials did not respond to an email sent to the sheriff’s media information team Monday, Sept. 13, asking if coronavirus testing would be required of jail employees.

In his Tuesday statement, Bianco slammed “the local paper” for “a false narrative and sensational headline claiming I don’t follow state mandates which require COVID-19 vaccinations or regular testing of employees assigned to our jails.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

The headline with the Tuesday newspaper article “Sheriff says he’ll defy shot mandate,” did not make clear the state’s mandate could be met through testing as well as vaccinations.

Bianco shared his views on the vaccine and mandatory vaccinations on “RSO Roundup,” a podcast that’s also shared as a video on the Sheriff Department’s Facebook page.

“My podcast was broadcasted to specifically address the concerns of my employees and was aired AFTER the state mandates had already been implemented with our jail personnel,” Bianco said in Tuesday’s statement.

“My employees wanted to know if I was going to voluntarily and unilaterally implement these same requirements for all other employees within the department, not just those employees assigned to the jails. There is no law or mandate for all employees to receive a vaccine, so therefore I will not go beyond what the state requires.”

The sheriff added: “As I have said all along, my belief whether or not to receive a vaccine is a personal decision, not something an overreaching government has the power to impose on an individual.”

The Riverside County Medical Association and Richard Carpiano, a UC Riverside public health expert, on Monday criticized Bianco’s podcast comments, which included doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness and his assertion that it’s not the government’s job to keep people healthy.

Carpiano said Monday that Bianco routinely spreads misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines and noted that sheriff’s deputies routinely come into contact with the general public, thus increasing the chances they spread the virus.

Staff writer David Downey contributed to this report.