There is a new and ongoing outbreak in Santa Rita Jail as of Sunday, August 16. 18 people tested positive last week, despite particularly low testing rates. The majority of new cases appeared only yesterday. This comes on the heels of the major outbreak that appeared almost exactly a month ago and indicates that the jail has not sufficiently adjusted their safety measures.
Oakland Abolition and Solidarity, self-defined as an “autonomous prisoner solidarity crew,” organized call blasts on Thursday and Friday to pressure the jail to meet the medical needs of Robert Abeyta and Philip Gipson, who have been severely mistreated while incarcerated in Santa Rita Jail.
Abeyta suffers from COPD and sleep apnea, but has been refused a CPAP machine, which allows him to breath while sleeping, for almost a month. He has attempted to stay awake the entire time, reporting that he begins choking when falling asleep on August 7. According to Abeyta, deputies warned him “you’re just going to make things worse for yourself by bringing this up to us.”
The jail also withheld medical care from Gipson, who is severely disabled, for bedsores and two open wounds. He began vomiting blood on Saturday, but was told he could not go to the hospital until Monday, at which point he had stopped and was denied access altogether.
In a press conference on Friday morning, Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle stated that he had received calls and was planning to speak to both men later that day. He stated that he would be reaching out to those who had contacted him.
13 incarcerated people tested positive on Sunday, following 77 tests administered the day before. 77 is the second-highest number of tests given in a day—the first is July 17 when 90 people were tested and 55 people came back positive.
Yet yesterday only 37 tests were administered, far less than would be necessary to determine the spread of an outbreak. The jail only appears to significantly increase testing when they know people are going to test positive, but given that such a high proportion of cases are asymptomatic it is impossible to determine the true level of spread without significant testing.
Prior to Saturday, barely more than 120 people had been tested this past week, far less than usual. That is less than 7% of the jail’s population, despite demands by Decarcerate Alameda County to offer testing to every incarcerated person at least once a month. The exact number remains unclear because the jail over-reported the number of tests on Sunday, August 9, but never clarified the correct number.
Lastly, test results this week were extremely backed up. Some tests administered on Saturday, August 8 did not return results until Wednesday. This was unusual given that the jail usually reports results the day after. The turnover rate returned to normal for the second half of the week.
Despite the new outbreak, no new housing units have been quarantined so far, making it unclear where the new cases came from.
Yet the jail has continued their erratic use of temporary housing unit quarantines. They have stopped indicating when and why housing units are released from quarantine and have begun cutting short or extending quarantines without explanation.
HU 33 ABC, which as of Friday contained 40 people, went through a particularly elaborate series of changes this last week. On Friday, August 7, the unit was released from quarantine 10 days ahead of schedule with no explanation. It was placed back under quarantine four days later on Tuesday, August 11. At first it was given an intended release date of August 25, but two days later this was changed to a release based on serial testing.
Additionally, HU 22B has been under quarantine since August 6, but got their intended release date extended to August 27th, surprisingly delayed by 6 days. As of Friday, 128 people were held in the unit.
HU 24D was only released from quarantine on July 25, but was returned to quarantine on Thursday, August 13th only to be suddenly released again two days later. The jail stated that the index case—the source of exposure—tested negative. As of Friday, 48 people were held in the unit.
Santa Rita Jail is currently holding 1,913 incarcerated people. The jail reached a peak on Monday, August 10 of 1,917 people, the highest it has been since the jail released hundreds of people after the onset of the pandemic. While there are only 25 more people than the previous Sunday, because the jail regularly brings in and releases people, far more people have actually entered the jail.
Of those nearly two thousand people, as of Friday, 413 were federal prisoners. Decarcerate Alameda County has also called for the cancellation of the Sheriff’s contract with Federal Marshals in the hope of significantly reducing the jail’s population.
Prison Staff Report
Only one new staff member tested positive for COVID-19 this last week, while six recovered, leaving only six active cases.
Many of those who recovered appear to have been considered active for at least two weeks, in stark contrast with how quickly the jail labels incarcerated people as recovered. 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 enough.
Cumulatively, there are 53 staff members who have tested positive so far and two deaths.
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. The jail also held a press conference on Friday morning where they supplied more detailed information about numbers in the jail. Oakland Abolition and Solidarity created a flyer with information about Abeyta and Gipson.