Whistleblower from Santa Rita Jail Highlights Improper Testing and False Testing Counts – Weekly Highlights from SRJ’s COVID-19 Crisis

By Tiffany Devlin



Over the span of two weeks, there was only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Santa Rita Jail (SRJ). It was first reported on Nov. 7 and resolved in nine days. 

As of Nov. 16, there have been zero cases in custody. Despite the jail reporting no cases, there are 14 people labeled as “red patients” as of Nov. 17. Red patients include those with COVID-19 symptoms awaiting test results and those with positive test results who will be released individually from OPHU, HU 8A or HU 8C when cleared by medical. 

On Nov. 16, SRJ reported that a record-breaking number of 186 patients — 8.5% of the jail population, is at an increased-risk for contracting COVID-19. Orange patients are currently healthy but are considered an increased risk for COVID-19 according to the SRJ patient color coding system outlined in the SRJ COVID-19 Outbreak Control Plan

Multiple housing units have been quarantined since Nov. 4. While some were released early due to negative test results for the index cases, there are currently two housing pods in different housing units that are still quarantined.

Jail News

Santa Rita Jail Solidarity published testimonies on Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, from Stephanie (Jamee) Navarro in HU 24E, regarding SRJ’s lies about testing counts and the improper administration of tests leading to inaccurate results. Stephanie has faced retaliation from jail officials for filing grievances and speaking against the jail.

“The most important thing is for them to know is that the jail is lying to people about how much they are testing. They are not offering the test to everyone. Since March 2020 they have not offered the test to every inmate, so not every inmate has been tested.” Stephanie wrote.

In previous testimonies to the Vanguard, many attested to minimal testing and poor quarantine protocols, suggesting that there are more active cases at SRJ than the confirmed cases count reported by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).

“They aren’t doing the tests right, so they don’t have accurate results. I don’t have faith in the tests. How are they getting accurate samples from just swabbing the tip, near the opening of my nose, there is no mucus there” Stephanie added. 

These reports are similar to concerns from Elmwood Correctional Center in Milpitas, Santa Clara County, where patients were asked to swab their own noses.

Regarding quarantine, Stephanie wrote, “… I am not high risk or quarantined so why am I in here? Where do I belong?”

Stephanie’s pod is considered high-risk. The population consists of pregnant and elderly women among others. She stated that some newly quarantined individuals were “straight from the street”, suggesting that high-risk patients are being mixed with others who are not high-risk.

This inter-mixing coupled with improper testing, puts the high-risk population in more danger of contracting COVID-19.

While Alameda County Public Health Dept. made only one visit to SRJ in six months despite multiple outbreaks, Stephanie reports that visits from Sabot Consulting, a third-party body that monitors the jail’s response to COVID-19, were biased since officials knew that they were visiting beforehand.

“When Sabot consulting, who is supposed to monitor the jail’s response to COVID, comes to the jail “unexpectedly,” it’s not unexpectedly… They do not surprise any of the housing units because we have been given notice. So giving the jail an A plus on the report card is a joke.” Stephanie wrote.

Stephanie has been deprived of pod time, along with being denied additional grievance forms.

“On November 1, I filed a grievance. Then, Deputies Fink & Sensibil in Housing Unit 24-West refused to provide me with additional grievance forms.” she wrote.

Stephanie is considered a whistleblower and has faced retaliation from the jail after complaining to her lawyer about how the jail has not passed out soap in months. The jail has also failed to be consistent in passing out masks once a week.

“When I started complaining to my lawyer who then complained to the jail they put up a sign by the pod door saying if you need wipes, masks, or soap ask a deputy. But a lot of inmates don’t know how to read, making this sign useless for some. Many inmates will not come out of their cells let alone ask for soap, masks or wipes.” Stephanie wrote, highlighting an accessibility issue arising from the literacy of some incarcerated people.

Stephanie wrote that HU 24 and the entire jail needs more serious auditing and monitoring.

Housing Report

On Nov. 7, a positive asymptomatic COVID-19 case was reported. All pods in HU 32 were quarantined on that day. While the projected release date was Nov. 21 for all pods, HU 32 D, E, and F were released on Nov. 12 because the index case tested negative. HU 32 A, B, and C were released the day after. 

On Nov. 11, HU 33 D, E, and F were quarantined and then released within three days because the index case tested negative. The projected release date was Nov. 26. 

On Nov. 15, all pods in HU 7 were quarantined, projected to be released on Nov. 29. However, ACSO updated the date after stating that only HU 7 E was quarantined. While it is unclear if all other pods in HU 7 were released except for HU 7 E, it is assumed that they were released.

HU 3E, 3F and 8B remain under use to hold individuals with a known exposure to COVID-19. These units have been in quarantine since July 31.

Testing Report

As of Nov. 17, there have been 5,444 tests completed in the jail cumulatively.  This number, however, does not reflect the number of individuals tested since one person can be tested multiple times to monitor their condition. Over the past two weeks, approximately 362 tests have been conducted.

There are numerous inconsistencies in the testing data reported by ACSO. On Nov. 8, they reported a decrease of 9 tests from the day before. Similarly on Nov. 15, they reported a decrease of 3 tests from the previous day. The cause for tests being deducted is unknown, as by definition, a cumulative statistic cannot decrease.

Despite the increasing number of orange patients, red patients, and staff/contractor cases, only 6 percent of the jail population has been tested in the past week. Over the past two weeks, there has been an overall 8 percent decrease in weekly testing.

On Nov. 7, one active asymptomatic case was reported. This case, however, was resolved in nine days. ACSO reports zero active cases as of Nov. 17.

Population Report

As of Nov. 17, the jail population count is 2153 people.

Over the past two weeks, the lowest population recorded was 2133 people on Nov. 7, and the highest count was 2190 people on Nov. 16.

The jail population continues to soar and is quickly reaching pre-pandemic levels that were observed in March. Outlined in a previous investigation, the jail admitted that population control is not a priority in their COVID-19 mitigation strategy. 

Staff Report

There has been a jump in staff cases over the past two weeks — there are 5 active COVID-19 staff/contractor cases as of Nov. 17. In total, there have been 57 staff/contractor cases recorded, 52 of which have been resolved.

Staff members who test positive may not return to work until they are cleared per CDC guidelines. Testing among the staff is also voluntary, and they have the opportunity to self-quarantine if they are showing symptoms of illness or suspect they have come in contact with the virus. Since testing is voluntary and symptom-based, it suggests that asymptomatic staff members pose a serious threat to COVID-19’s spread.

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 www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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