Santa Rita Jail’s COVID-19 Cover-Up – Quarantine Housing Cut Short Without Explanation, <10 Percent of Population Tested

By Larkin White

COVID-19 in Santa Rita Jail

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) provided less information in their daily COVID-19 updates these last two weeks compared to information released previously. Over the last three weeks, the Davis Vanguard has investigated two methods ACSO used to bring down their cases amidst a pandemic: (a) Testing minimally — last week less than 10% of the population was tested; some days zero tests were administered — and (b) Classifying asymptomatic individuals as recovered. The two practices make evident the ACSO’s blatant effort to cover up the true conditions of the jail and extent of the outbreak. 

This week, the Vanguard identified a new concern with the ACSO’s response to the pandemic – their haphazard, unexplained use of temporary housing unit quarantines. The jail has stopped indicating when and why housing units are released from quarantine and has begun cutting short or extending quarantines without explanation. 

The lack of transparency became most noticeable after July 28 when three units were reported as quarantined with an intended release date of August 11 before disappearing from the Sheriff’s website two days later.

After that, similar changes began to occur regularly without explanation. Housing unit 3A was released on Wednesday, after only two days under quarantine. 33 ABC was released on Friday, despite having been put under quarantine at the same time. Housing unit 22B was just recently placed under quarantine for two weeks, despite only being released one week ago. It has moved in and out of quarantine over the last three months. All of these sudden changes suggest that the jail has been dealing with a more turbulent outbreak of COVID-19 than the low number of active cases would suggest.

Additionally, the number of housing units that act as permanent housing for incarcerated people who have been in contact with someone who tested positive has doubled — going from two to four in the last few weeks. Incarcerated people are quarantined in these units on an individual basis, which conceals the length of their quarantine.

As permanent quarantine housing has increased, the jail has enforced fewer quarantines. Where there used to consistently be over five entire units under temporary quarantine at any given time, now only HU 8D and 22B are fully quarantined, while HU 8E is quarantined on a cell specific basis.

By other measurements, the jail appears to have been relatively stable this last week. They administered only 195 COVID-19 tests — barely more than 10% of the incarcerated population — and identified 6 new cases, similar to the week before. They continue to test far less than would be necessary to produce reliable information on how many people have the virus. 

Decarcerate Alameda County, a community organization consisting of family members of people in SRJ, has demanded that the jail offer testing to everyone incarcerated there once a month. This would require over 400 tests per week.

Santa Rita Jail and Alameda County

Santa Rita Jail is currently holding 1869 incarcerated people. Although the population is down 712 from March 1, it is up significantly from a low of 1726 on April 25. 

Additionally, because the jail regularly brings in and releases people, the number of newer people in the jail over the last week is actually substantially higher than 1869.

Jail Staff Report

Only one new staff member tested positive for COVID-19 this week, though only two recovered, leaving 11 active cases. There has been a cumulative total of 52 staff members who have tested positive so far and two deaths.

At least 8 of the current cases have been active for the last two weeks because there have only been four new cases in that period. In contrast, ACSO spokesman Sergeant Ray Kelly told Davis Vanguard that asymptomatic people with COVID-19 are considered “recovered” once they have failed to show symptoms for only four days. The vast majority of these people still have the virus in their system and are, in fact, still required by the jail to stay in the quarantine zone for two weeks after testing positive. The discrepancy in policies makes obvious the fact that the ACSO is not taking the health of the people incarcerated in Santa Rita Jail seriously.

Source: The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office updates their website daily with COVID-19 case and testing numbers from the jail. It should be noted that many daily reports during the last two weeks have had errors which were addressed only when asked about. Darby Aono, a Berkeley Law student, has been recording the daily reports in a spreadsheet going back to early spring.

About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See for more information.

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