Vaccine Acceptance Rate Plummets – 5 Weekly Highlights from Santa Rita Jail’s COVID Crisis

By Tiffany Devlin

Davis Vanguard’s bi-weekly update from Santa Rita Jail’s COVID-19 crisis

While COVID-19 cases at Santa Rita Jail have dwindled over the last two weeks, the virus continues to threaten the health of those in custody since the population size is on a steep upward trajectory and reached an all-time high this month.

On March 8 there were 2267 people in custody, the highest recorded population size, compared with a low of 1700 people in early-April. 

Roughly 12 percent of the population was tested during any 7-day window between Feb. 20 and March 12.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office reported eleven new cases within the incarcerated population and no new staff/contractor cases between Feb. 27 and March 12. Five cases were resolved or released, leaving one symptomatic and six asymptomatic cases in custody.

On March 1, Wellpath, the jail’s medical provider, began administering vaccinations to medically vulnerable patients. They initially offered the first-dose of the Moderna vaccine to 101 people and 79 accepted.

The vaccine acceptance rate has gradually dropped by half. As of March 12, around 756 people in total were offered the first-dose, of which only 253 or approximately 34 percent consented. 

Jail News

A survey developed by the Alameda County Public Health Dept. to track incarcerated people’s views on COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, will be offered to everyone in custody and not a subset with high-risk medical factors as originally reported. It is being finalized by Behavioral Health, Public Health, Sheriff’s Office and a prison-reform advocate. 

The results will likely be available to the public by April 19.

Staff Vaccinations

In a recent BOS meeting, the Sheriff’s Office stated that due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a law meant to protect one’s privacy and health information, there is no way to legitimately track vaccination numbers among staff.

A representative from their legal team added that there are ADA and FEHA issues that arise when considering an employer’s access to an employee’s medical information.

While it is unknown how many custody and sworn staff have been vaccinated, only 62 percent of medical staff at Santa Rita Jail have consented – a refusal rate of almost 40 percent.

Testing Report

Since Feb. 27, approximately 611 tests have been administered, of which 64 are pending results. Approximately 30 percent of the jail was tested in the last two weeks and 12 percent in the past week.

Undersheriff Lucia explicitly noted in a BOS meeting in January that tests may not be provided to asymptomatic individuals even if they specifically request one. 

Wellpath confirmed that it is in fact their protocol to provide tests only to those who medical staff deem “need” testing.

“You can’t just walk up to Kaiser (Permanente) and say ‘I want to be tested,’ you have to have a physician order or a reason for the test,” said Mike Durbin, Health Services Administrator for Wellpath.

“In our situation, a predominance of our test is actually on asymptomatic patients… there are about nine other out of ten criteria with only ONE being symptomatic. There are nine aspects associated with asymptomatic testing.”

Durbin stressed that even though their testing consists predominantly of asymptomatic patients given their nine other criteria, there must be a clinical criteria or guiding principle behind requesting a test.

However, most community-based testing does not require clinical criteria. Anyone who wants to be tested can be tested. The same principle for community-based testing, set forth by Public Health, is not being applied inside the jail.

“In Alameda County, you could get a COVID-19 test for whatever reason,” said Kimi Watkins-Tartt, director of Public Health. “With that being said though, each provider of testing has their own criteria for what they use for testing.”

The Vanguard has requested a detailed breakdown of tests that have been requested by incarcerated people and turned down by medical staff.

Population Report

The jail population peaked at 2267 people on March 8 – one of the highest counts during the pandemic. The population currently sits at 2190 as of March 12.

In Sabot Consulting’s spot-check report from Sept. 2020, Mike Brady recommended Santa Rita Jail to reduce its population in order to control the spread of the virus. 

Regardless, the Sheriff’s Office admitted that population control is not a priority in their mitigation strategy. 

The rise in jail population is in part due to the large number of individuals slated for state prison or federal prisons who have not been transferred due to COVID restrictions. 

In March 2020, CDCR halted county-jail intake to control the spread of the virus inside its 35 state prisons. Intake was resumed periodically for high-priority cases, but Santa Rita Jail did not make the cut. In early January, “limited intake” resumed again.

In a recent BOS meeting, Undersheriff Richard Lucia announced that CDCR will soon be accepting over 200 individuals from their custody, of which 40 will be a part of the first round of transfers. Additionally, there are 400 federal detainees still pending transfer.

Since intake resumed, there has been a spike in state prison populations and an outbreak at Wasco State Prison, the intake center. 

All individuals scheduled to transfer out of Santa Rita Jail should be “tested and quarantined prior to transport” according to the Outbreak Control Plan.

Wellpath asserted that testing is offered to U.S Marshall transfers, CDCR transfers, those awaiting transfers to the state hospital, or those awaiting transfers to court or a drug appointment service. Further, symptoms are not needed for those awaiting transfers to be offered a test.

Housing Report

Between Feb. 27 – March 12, a total of 21 housing units were quarantined. Currently, 10 housing units are under quarantine – three of which are undergoing serial testing.

Roughly 18 of these units were quarantined for the second time in the last two months. HU 32 D, E and F were quarantined on Jan. 22, released, and then re-quarantined on March 1– just one week later.

Two housing pods that were quarantined (HU 3C and D) had not been re-quarantined since last October. They had been quarantined for over 46 days.

The Sheriff’s Office states that all releases are done after the index case tests negative. The projected release dates are usually 14 days after the unit begins quarantine.

Here is a list of quarantined housing units as of March 12:

  • HU 32 A, B, and C have been quarantined on March 11 due to a patient presenting symptoms on March 10. They are scheduled to be released on March 25. (Last quarantined on Jan. 16.
  • HU 24 A, B, and C have also been quarantined on March 11 – they are undergoing serial testing due to an exposure to a COVID-19 positive patient. (Last quarantined on Jan. 11.)
  • Further, the individuals housed in HU 24 A, B, and C have been moved to HU 35 A, B, and C on March 12 to continue serial testing.
  • HU 9 E has been quarantined on March 12 due to a patient presenting symptoms on the same day. It is scheduled to be released on March 26. (Last quarantined on Jan. 14.)
  • HU 34 D, E, and F have been quarantined on March 12 due to a patient presenting symptoms on the same day. They are scheduled to be released on March 27. (Last quarantined on Jan. 28.)




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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