By Linh Nguyen
At the beginning of the week, the SCU Lightning Complex Fire, burning about 20 miles from Santa Rita Jail, threatened the safety of the population with smoke that made breathing difficult and posed the risk of evacuation. This was especially dangerous for COVID-19 positive individuals as the smoke worsens respiratory function. Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) did not release an evacuation plan, although they claim that they have one. As Cal Fire is working to contain more of the fire, it is now unlikely that SRJ will need to evacuate.
In other news, last week, Oakland Abolition & Solidarity reported that their call blast to the jail on August 13 & 14, resulted in Robert Abeyta being transported into the hospital unit, finally receiving some of the care they needed. However, Santa Rita Jail and Wellpath, their medical provider, was still refusing to provide a CPAP machine for him.
Abeyta suffers from COPD and sleep apnea, but has been refused a CPAP machine, which allows him to breath while sleeping, for over a month. He has attempted to stay awake the entire time, reporting that he begins choking when falling asleep. According to Abeyta, deputies warned him “you’re just going to make things worse for yourself by bringing this up to us.”
On Aug. 27, Oakland Abolition & Solidarity announced that Abeyta now has a CPAP machine inside the jail, implying that ACSO was likely pressured into providing that machine for Abeyta.
No new housing units were designated for quarantine use until Thursday Aug. 27. Prior to Thursday, only HU 3E, 3F and 8B were used to hold individuals with a known exposure to COVID-19. Those units have been in quarantine since July 31.
On Thursday, ACSO announced that HU 9E and HU 31 A, B and C were under quarantine, not scheduled for release until Sep. 9 and Sep. 10 respectively. However, ACSO’s daily update for Friday and Saturday did not say that HU 9E was still under quarantine, which raises questions on whether this housing unit was released after one day, why it was released and the health conditions of those in the unit. HU 9E and HU 31 A, B and C were last quarantined in mid-July, when the major outbreak occurred.
There have been 3,199 tests completed in the jail cumulatively. This number does not reflect the number of individuals tested since one person can be tested multiple times to monitor their condition and declare them as COVID-19 negative. This week, 181 tests have been completed. There are currently 37 tests pending results.
Testing this week revealed two new cases among the incarcerated population. ACSO also reported that 20 people have recovered this week.
Two individuals were released with active cases. Currently, there are six confirmed active cases in the jail. The highest number of cases this week was 25 cases.
There may be more active cases in the jail than what ACSO reports. Cases may go undetected because (a). individuals are asymptomatic or (b). individuals refuse testing to avoid isolation and quarantine if tested positive.
Testing would need to be more widespread to confirm the true number of infected individuals in the jail so that they can be separated from those more susceptible to the virus. Furthermore, to encourage testing, quarantine protocols must also change so that individuals do not fear isolation in quarantine, as incarcerated narratives shared.
This week, SRJ saw a net increase of 27 individuals. As of Saturday Aug. 29, the population count is 1923.
The current population is approximately 11% higher than the lowest recorded population since the pandemic, recorded on Apr. 25 when the population was 1726. Since then, the jail population has been steadily increasing.
Commander Yesenia Sanchez explains that the increase in population is a usual thing experienced in any given year.
Sanchez also stated that the number of bookings is increasing due to the fact that they are “holding onto large numbers of people slated for CDCR.” The CDC does not allow transfers between correctional facilities at this time. They are currently holding 99 people who are awaiting transfer to state prison.
There have not been any new staff cases since Aug. 11. In total there have been 53 staff cases thus far.
Wellpath, the jail’s health provider that oversees COVID-19 testing, acknowledged a lack of communication between Wellpath employees. Last week, in a conference call with the jail and community organizers, a Wellpath representative promised to release testing data of Wellpath employees. This Friday, Jen Diaz, another Wellpath representative, said that they do not have those numbers because she was not aware that data was requested.
However, Diaz said that in total, between Wellpath employees and SRJ staff, there have been 62 positive staff cases. This means that there have been nine COVID-19 cases among Wellpath employees, though when they became infected was not specified.