Santa Rita Jail Population Soars and Testing Remains Minimal

By Larkin White


Eight new cases have appeared in Santa Rita Jail (SRJ) since last Sunday, although there have been no new cases since Wednesday. Testing has increased slightly from the beginning of August, but remains insufficient to determine the true spread of the virus. On Friday, jail staff said that all new cases had emerged from HU 33 and as of this weekend there are fewer housing units under quarantine. Both facts suggest that the jail is gaining more control over the spread of the virus.

Jail News

At the beginning of last week, Oakland Abolition & Solidarity reported that their call blast to the jail the previous Thursday and Friday resulted in both Robert Abeyta and Phillip Gipson being transported into the hospital unit, finally receiving some of the care they desperately needed. However, Santa Rita Jail and Wellpath, their medical provider, are still refusing to provide a CPAP machine for both of them.

Housing Report

At a conference call on Friday, August 21, jail staff stated that only 37 incarcerated people who have been exposed to someone who tested positive remain under quarantine. They are split between the jail’s three permanent quarantine units and will be released on an individual basis.

In other news, the number of incarcerated people who are considered to be at an increased risk for COVID-19 has fallen to 146, the lowest it has been in two months, although not by much. This is after the population hit a record high of 162 the previous Sunday.

Testing Report

Testing this week continued at similar levels to previous weeks, despite a recent outbreak. According to jail staff, all those who tested positive in the latest outbreak had been housed in HU 33, which seems to explain why testing was not increased.

However, the coming days will show whether the ACSO truly has eradicated the virus within the jail or whether it has simply lost track of where asymptomatic cases have spread.

This week’s testing indicates that the former is more likely. Barely more than 1% of the jail’s population got tested when thirteen new cases emerged last Sunday and the day after that zero tests were administered. Over the course of the week, an average of 29 people were tested each day, which is, in total, less than 10% of the jail’s population.

It would require 14 days without any new cases as well as more thorough testing across the jail to confirm that the jail has achieved the level of control that their lack of housing quarantine and new cases suggests. While the jail has seen periods of over a week where no new cases were discovered this summer, so far it has been unsuccessful in its attempt to rid itself of the virus entirely. It is hard to imagine how the jail will be able to do so without implementing more thorough testing.

In contrast to SRJ’s cumulative 3,018 COVID-19 tests, the Santa Clara County jail system reports completion of over 6,000 tests, even though it holds only a few hundred more incarcerated people.

As of Saturday, August 22, 54 tests are pending results. Every time this many tests have been pending in the last month, there were new cases the following day.

Population Report

As of Aug. 21, SRJ has a jail population of 1912 incarcerated people. This is a 20 people net increase since Sunday, Aug. 15, when the jail population was 1892. Over the week, the jail population increased by 49 people and lost 29 people. The current incarcerated population is only one less than the second record high population since April, set earlier this week on Monday.

However, this number may not be so unusual anymore. Trends from the last few months since April, when the average incarcerated population was around 1750 people, suggest that the SRJ incarcerated population is gradually rising, despite COVID-19 and initial efforts to reduce the jail population to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Staff Report

This week, there have not been any new positive cases among jail staff. The total number of staff cases remains at 53. Since Deputy Oscar Rocha and another woman working at the Sheriff’s Office died from COVID-19 within 24 hours of each other in July, only five new cases have emerged, compared to 13 the month before. The trend suggests that the jail has learned to better mitigate and control the spread of the virus among jail staff, if not the people incarcerated.

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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