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Criminal Justice

Riverside Sheriff Bianco Spreads False Information About COVID-19

A portrait of Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco in his official uniform, with 4 gold stars on each of his shirt lapels and a badge on the left side of his chest.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.
(Riverside Sheriff's Department
/
Riverside Sheriff's Department)
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Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco says he would refuse to enforce any vaccine mandate for his department. In a written statement and in a recent podcast explaining his position, he made a series of comments that were either false or misleading.

Government and health officials have warned that such statements by people in power can have a powerful effect on people’s decision whether to get vaccinated.

Bianco joins a growing number of conservative sheriffs across the country and a federal law enforcement union denouncing mandates. Bianco called the mandates “tyrannical government overreach.”

No mandate exists for Bianco’s roughly 3,600 deputies, but his comments come less than a week after President Biden issued a sweeping new order requiring vaccinations for all federal employees and contractors, workers at healthcare facilities who receive federal Medicaid funding, and all staff at Head Start programs run by the federal government.

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Biden also ordered the Department of Labor to create a rule requiring any company with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccines for its employees, or require weekly COVID-19 tests for workers who cite religious or medical reasons for not getting vaccinated.

“I’m not anti-vax,” Bianco stated on the department’s semi-regular podcast, where he appears with a sergeant from the media information bureau. “I’m anti-vax for Chad.”

The sheriff said he contracted COVID-19 in January and recovered. He said his doctor recommended he not get the vaccine because he is healthy.

“One thing about law enforcement is all we really care about is facts,” Bianco said on the podcast. The sheriff said cops are accustomed to dealing with criminals, and “it’s very easy to tell when you are not being told the truth.”

And people have not been told the truth about the vaccine, he said.

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But it was Bianco who was misleading.

He repeatedly cast doubt on the vaccines, even though the nation's scientific authorities have concluded that they are safe and effective. “The vaccine may not be as effective as you think,” he warned, “when you let go of that fear and really do a little research and look into all different sides ... not just what the media and government want you to hear."

Here are five statements made by Bianco that bear examining:

  • “It is my responsibility to protect the public from the criminal element, as well as being the last line of defense from tyrannical government overreach. The government has no ability and no authority to mandate your health choices.”

NPR reported last month that the Supreme Court in 1905, in a famous case called Jacobson v. Massachusetts, upheld a Cambridge city law that required smallpox vaccination. That was an instance in which the Supreme Court said we don't have a right to place other people at risk. And by 1922, in another case, Justice Louis Brandeis, writing for a unanimous court, upheld childhood school mandates, calling it settled law.

  • "Your natural immunity provides far more protection than a vaccine. Everyone knows that. That is science. That’s not Chad saying that.”

Health experts say being infected can provide some level of immunity but it can vary significantly from one person to the next, and they point to growing evidence that vaccinating people who have had COVID-19 dramatically increases their protection against re-infection. A CDC study of COVID-19 infections in Kentucky among people who were previously infected found unvaccinated individuals were more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus.

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  • “99.875 percent of the people get over it and everything is fine.”

Doctors and scientists are studying the lasting impacts of COVID 19. One study said nearly one-quarter of people who were infected have continuing health problems.

The CDC says those problems can range from shortness of breath to fatigue to difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”).

“Some people who had severe illness with COVID-19 experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions over a longer time with symptoms lasting weeks or months after COVID-19 illness,” the CDC notes on its website.

  • “Half the doctors out there are saying something different” [about whether people need to get vaccinated].

There is no readily available study of what doctors are telling their patients. But the American Medical Association (AMA) in June released a new survey among practicing physicians that shows more than 96% of U.S. physician respondents had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with no significant difference in vaccination rates across regions. Of the physicians who are not yet vaccinated, an additional 45% plan to get vaccinated.

  • "In the very beginning, when they showed us those pictures of the people in China dead in the street where they were just falling over. We know that was all not true now. Those were fake.”

The sheriff points to fake photos to suggest that COVID-19 is not as dangerous as scientists and public health officials agree it is.

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In March of 2020, photos that claimed to show people dying of COVID-19 on the streets in China in fact were from a 2014 art performance in Germany, according to Reuters.

Several organizations have vowed to challenge the president’s vaccine mandate and some legal scholars say a conservative majority of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the precedent.

What questions do you have about the coronavirus and/or how it’s affecting your life in Southern California?