Coronavirus testing difficult to come by for exposed deputies, inmates at Santa Rita | News | |


Coronavirus testing difficult to come by for exposed deputies, inmates at Santa Rita

One possible case is homeless woman booked for misdemeanor intoxication in Pleasanton, later treated at ValleyCare

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The Alameda County Sheriff's Office has been working to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus inside Santa Rita Jail, but even after instances of confirmed exposure, testing has been slow and difficult to come by.

The jail has not had any confirmed cases as of Tuesday. But one deputy with a suspected case was denied a test at a Hayward testing facility that opened on Monday, according to Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly.

The center can perform up to 370 tests per day, but the deputy did not meet the criteria, Kelly said. He is now in self-quarantine.

Another deputy thought he may have had contracted the coronavirus last week. His test took five days to process but was negative, Kelly said.

"We want first responder testing and testing for medical personnel ASAP," Kelly said.

Hayward spokesperson Chuck Finnie said in an email that he could not confirm or deny whether a deputy was denied testing at the Hayward site but said that only 192 tests were conducted on Monday and they relaxed rules about who could be tested throughout the day.

A Santa Rita inmate was exposed to the virus last week by an Oakland Police Department detective who tested positive for coronavirus, according to documents and two sources with knowledge of the situation.

The detective conducted an interview of a suspect in custody. The inmate was placed in quarantine, according to records obtained by Bay City News.

Oakland police did not return a request for comment.

A homeless woman who was booked over the weekend was also tested for coronavirus. Kelly said the sheriff's office is still waiting on her test results.

She had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge in Pleasanton and did not show signs of illness when she was booked, but later developed a 100-degree fever and was taken to Stanford-ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton.

Kelly said that the woman should not have been booked into Santa Rita on the minor charge under the circumstances, when courts are closed and more than 400 inmates have been released in an effort to reduce pressure on staff and prevent the spread of the virus.

Pleasanton police Lt. Penelope Tamm said that the initial call was regarding vandalism at a business. Officers who responded determined that the woman was intoxicated, but the business owner did not want to press charges, so she was booked into jail for public intoxication.

"We still have to do our job and we have to take care of our community," Tamm said. "I truly believe that if the officers had seen anything that made them concerned or worried they would not have done it."

Yolanda Huang, a civil rights attorney who has filed several lawsuits against the county over access to medical care in the jail, said that she has received several calls from concerned inmates after the woman became ill.

Huang said that inmates were sent to clean the pod after the woman was taken to the hospital and were given minimal protective gear: gloves and masks.

She said that one of the inmates put a bag over her body to help prevent exposure.

Inmates in Santa Rita staged a hunger strike last fall over allegations of unsanitary conditions, among other things. They alleged that they received only one change of clothes a week and that cells are at times stained with blood, feces and vomit. The sheriff's office denied the allegations.

Last week, a group of inmates at the jail submitted a new list of grievances to the sheriff's office and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, alleging that the jail was not providing enough cleaning supplies to clean cells. They alleged that people who were arrested were booked with no opportunity to wash up.

"It's still an issue, they haven't changed any of that," Huang said. "So if COVID-19 gets into Santa Rita it's going to be a wildfire."

-- Scott Morris, Bay City News Foundation

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