By Tiffany Devlin
Covid In-Custody Project’s bi-weekly highlights from Santa Rita Jail’s COVID-19 crisis
ALAMEDA, CA– Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 cases in Santa Rita Jail (SRJ) have remained low. However, with only approximately 26 percent of the incarcerated population fully vaccinated, the virus continues to be a threat to their health and safety.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) reported four new cases in the jail population and zero staff/contractor cases over the last two weeks. Currently, there is one incarcerated person and no staff/contractors with active infections.
Weekly testing rates have been increasing, most likely due to ongoing surveillance testing. This month, Wellpath has tested as high as 23 percent to as low as 11 percent of the jail population in any 7-day period.
Vaccination progress for jail population
ACSO first began administering vaccines to those with underlying medical conditions and comorbidities on March 1. Since then, vaccines have been offered to other parts of the jail population.
As of June 11, 773 individuals were given the single dose J&J vaccine or both doses of the Moderna vaccine while in custody. Only 561 of them remain in custody, i.e. roughly 26 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
92 individuals have received one dose of the Moderna vaccine, of which only 26 remain in custody, i.e. nearly 1 percent of the population is partially vaccinated.
Residents in HU 1 ABCEF, HU 2 – 4, HU 6 – 9, HU 21 ACDEF, HU 24 – 25, HU 31 – 34, and Outpatient Housing Unit (OPHU) have been offered vaccines so far.
Since the population in these HUs changes frequently due to transfers, releases and intake, there may be new residents in these units who have not been offered the vaccine yet.
During the initial months of the vaccine rollout, Wellpath was reporting the total number of people who were offered the vaccine. However, in late April, Health Services Administrator, Mike Durbin stated that this count could be inflated since individuals may be approached more than once. Since then, Wellpath began reporting the number of unique individuals who were offered the vaccine per week.
Between May 3 – 7, 221 individuals were offered vaccines, of which 60 consented.
While this data point was not provided for June, Mike Durbin stated that “an entire sweep of the jail has been completed… everyone has been offered the vaccine at least once if not twice.” Further, new books are now being offered the vaccine on day 10 and 14 of their 14-day mandatory intake quarantine period.
In a survey on incarcerated individuals’ attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccinations and testing conducted by the Alameda County Public Health Dept., 50 percent of respondents said they would not take the vaccine, mainly due to a lack of trust. One respondent said, “It kills people.”
In order to increase the vaccine uptake, ACSO planned to introduce vouchers, gift cards and commissary subsidies as incentives for those who consent.
Resumption of in-person services
ACSO and the Alameda County Public Health Dept. are working together to develop a phased plan to resume in-person religious services, education programs and visitation.
The jail does not plan to re-open visitation services to full capacity under the first phase, instead they are considering a 25 percent opening with strict sanitation protocols.
$1m COVID-19 funding for Sheriff’s Office
In a letter dated from March 10, ACSO requested the Board of Supervisors (BOS) to accept grant funding in the amount of $1,121,503.18 from the 2020 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program for the period of March 2021 to Jan. 2022.
ACSO stated that the funding would be used “to open four vacant housing units at the Santa Rita Jail, which will enhance our ability to quarantine inmates, spread the inmate population and slow the spread of COVID-19.” Additionally, it would “facilitate the delivery of medical services and vaccinations for inmates at Santa Rita Jail. There are no existing funds to accomplish these tasks,” wrote Sheriff Ahern.
Mike Durbin, Health Services Administrator for Wellpath, stated that five additional medical staff members have been hired through this funding— two are assigned to the vaccine clinic, another two are assigned to administer COVID-19 testing, and one is assigned to the temperature checking station that ran for 24 hours per day at some points during the pandemic.
Cases & testing for jail staff
114 staff/contractor cases have been recorded since the pandemic emerged, all of which have recovered. There are no active cases currently.
On March 1, the Alameda County Health Officer issued a mandatory testing order for all ACSO SRJ employees after multiple failures to comply with the Public Health Dept.’s recommendation to test 100 percent of staff per month or 25 percent of staff per week.
Previously, the Covid In-Custody project highlighted a downward trend in compliance with the health order. Based on three previous 14-day testing periods, the compliance rate dropped from 91 to 72 percent.
Additionally, the number of staff out of compliance skyrocketed from 92 to 280. Of these, 63 have been out of compliance more than once.
Commander Yesenia Sanchez reported that one staff member has been out of compliance since the health order went into effect. She stated that while administrative action has been taken, the specifics cannot be discussed as the officer is protected under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights.
While the order specifies that staff must be tested once every 14 days, the testing period that started on May 9 lasted for 21 days.
Between May 9 – 29, 974 out of 986 ACSO SRJ staff were tested, showing a 99 percent compliance rate. 109 exemptions were granted and 15 staff members failed to comply.
This data, however, cannot be seen as an improvement since it was collected over a longer period unlike the previous 14-day blocks.
Commander Sanchez explained that the one-time 7-day extension was implemented to align the employee pay period with the testing block. This, however, was not the case in the previous testing blocks, which Sanchez claims caused confusion among staff resulting in low compliance rates.
Going forward, staff will be required to take a test in alignment with their pay period and the testing blocks will return to 14-day periods.
Vaccination progress for jail staff
During a BOS meeting on March 16, Undersheriff Richard Lucia stated that the “data on vaccinations for employees of the Sheriff’s Office would be provided soon,” however, despite multiple requests, it was not made public until last week.
Using the California Immunization Registry (CAIR), the Alameda County Public Health Dept. matched 875 out of 1678 total ACSO employees with records of individuals who received at least one dose. 617 of them are fully vaccinated.
There were limitations, however, in generating an accurate count.
The Public Health Dept. ran the search against 9 Bay Area counties, including Yolo, San Joaquin, Sacramento and Stanislaus. Any employee who was vaccinated outside of these select counties was not counted. To improve the search, names such as “Michael” and “Mike” were considered identical.
Commander Sanchez noted that the CAIR database has several errors, which other counties have reported as well, such as missing data and the lack of consistent identification.
Since the vaccination count retrieved from the CAIR database is not specific to ACSO SRJ staff, and instead encompasses all ACSO employees, it does not speak to the immunity among those who are primary vectors for outbreaks in custody settings.
Testing for jail population
Between May 31 and June 13, approximately 755 tests were administered, of which 83 are pending results. Approximately 36 percent of the jail was tested in the last two weeks and 17 percent in the past week.
Over the past month, roughly 69 percent of the jail population was tested. Higher testing rates may be attributed to ongoing surveillance testing.
Nearly a month ago, the Covid In-Custody Project reported that the refusal rate for testing at intake was 42 percent. For expanded testing, which is offered to those with medical vulnerabilities, residents in open air units and kitchen or laundry workers, the refusal rate was 80 percent. For those preparing for release or transfer, the refusal rate was 10 percent.
Between May 23 and June 4, the refusal rate for new books, further decreased to 32 percent. The refusal rate for expanded testing increased to 89 percent. For individuals preparing for release or transfer, the refusal rate decreased to 8 percent.
There was a zero percent refusal rate for quarantined housing units. 2 out of 62 patients refused testing for pod workers– roughly a 3 percent refusal rate.
Trends in jail population
The jail population has been fairly constant over the last two weeks. Nonetheless, the population has steadily increased since April 2020. Currently, there are 2098 people in custody.
Housing Unit quarantines
Between May 31 to June 13, a total of 9 housing pods were quarantined. Currently, there are four housing pods under quarantine, three of which are undergoing surveillance testing.
All of the housing pods were quarantined for the second time in the last two months, or re-quarantined since the pandemic started.
Five housing pods were quarantined and then released during this period of time.
HU 31 D, E, and F were quarantined on June 6 due to a patient that tested positive for COVID-19 in HU 31 F pod.
ACSO 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.
Currently, HU 31 D, E, and F remain quarantined while undergoing surveillance testing. It was last released from quarantine on Jan. 23.
HU 8 F has been since June 12 due to an exposure to a patient that is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The unit will be quarantined until June 26 unless the index case tests negative.