Alameda County Jail – COVID-19 Outbreak Coverup?

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By Larkin White & Nikki Suzani

Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes

Two staff members at Santa Rita Jail (SRJ) died this weekend as the jail battles a serious COVID-19 outbreak. They are the first COVID-related deaths the jail has seen. There are 91 active cases within the jail population. One incarcerated person was hospitalization due to COVID-related complications and has since returned to the population. No deaths have been recorded within the jail population.

The most recent of the two staff deaths was a woman who worked in administration for the County Coroner’s Office. The second was ACSO Deputy Oscar Rocha, who had worked at SRJ, in addition to Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, for much of his 25-year career. 

Other staff case numbers have held this last week as several staff contracted and recovered from COVID-19. There are currently 12 staff and contractors with active infections, out of a cumulative total of 48.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office uploads a daily report of current COVID-19 numbers in the jail. Over the last two weeks, these reports have become error-prone, undermining the credibility of the Sheriff’s Office. Furthermore, the case numbers SRJ reports have become even less credible due to their lack of serious testing.

Almost a third of all tests administered in the past two weeks have come back positive, while many of the other tests are sure to have been used on previously positive or quarantined people, meaning few tests—a couple hundred, only—are being used to guarantee a lack of virus transmission. A couple hundred tests is not nearly enough to know whether the outbreak has spread elsewhere in the jail, especially when so many other tests come back positive.

In response to the lack of testing, Decarcerate Alameda County, a community organization of family members of people held in SRJ, held a press conference in Dublin on Monday where they demanded that the jail offer testing to every incarcerated person once a month and test all incarcerated people upon release, among other changes

This week the Sheriff’s Office began differentiating between symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, likely to mitigate fears about what a 100-person outbreak might look like. They claim that only 11 people have symptoms, a small minority of all active cases. Although this emphasizes the relatively small number of people who are actually suffering from the virus, it also implies that far more people across the jail may have COVID-19 but not show symptoms that would trigger a test.

Decarcerate Alameda County has also called on the jail to release all incarcerated people on pretrial. There are currently 1867 people held in the jail, over 100 more than the lowest count reported in 2020.

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About The Author

Aparna Komarla leads the Covid In-Custody project, which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic's impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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