Outbreak in Santa Rita Jail After Months of Declining Cases — Only 24% of Population is Vaccinated

By Tiffany Devlin

Bi-weekly update from Santa Rita Jail’s COVID-19 crisis. The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring quantitative and qualitative reporting on the pandemic’s impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye.

ALAMEDA, CA— While COVID-19 cases in Santa Rita Jail (SRJ) have been low for a few months, recently, new cases have emerged. 

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) reported that eleven cases were identified during booking or in custody during the entire month of May and June. In contrast, this month, six new cases were reported in the past week alone. Currently, there are two incarcerated persons with active infections. No jail staff cases have been reported since July 7.

With only roughly 24 percent of the jail population fully vaccinated, the spread of COVID-19 in the jail continues to be a concern.

Weekly testing rates have been fairly constant. Wellpath, the medical provider for the jail, has tested as high as 16 percent to as low as 12 percent of the population in the past two weeks. 

Jail news

ACSO plans to resume in-person visitations on August 1, after a nearly 15-month halt. Jail Commander, Yesenia Sanchez, has stated that several precautionary measures will be taken to ensure that visits are safe— extra sanitation, installing plexiglass and adding more jail staff to assist visitors.

The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant, which has been identified in over 90 countries at the moment, is increasingly becoming a variant of concern for the general public due to its higher transmissibility. Many advocates and community members have expressed concern regarding the impact of new variants on incarcerated populations, especially those with a low vaccination rate, like Santa Rita Jail’s population. 

Kimi Watkins-Tartt, director of the Alameda County Public Health Dept. (ACPHD), stated that while the test positivity rate is increasing in the community, primarily due to the Delta variant, she is unsure of positive Delta variant cases inside the jail. 

Health Services Administrator for Wellpath, Mike Durbin, added that his team does not plan to lift any COVID-19 mitigation strategies and protocols at this time.

Vaccination progress for jail population

ACSO first began administering vaccinations 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 July 15, 847 individuals were given the single dose J&J vaccine or both doses of the Moderna vaccine while in custody. Only 520 of them remain in custody, i.e. roughly 24 percent of the current population is fully vaccinated.

95 individuals have received one dose of the Moderna vaccine, of which only 26 remain in custody, i.e. roughly 1 percent of the current 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, the units may have new residents who have not been offered the vaccine yet.

To capture the exact refusal rate for vaccines, the Covid In-Custody Project had requested Mike Durbin to provide a count of those offered a vaccine per day or per week. However, since residents can be offered a vaccine more than once and at different points during their incarceration, such as day 10 and day 14 of the mandatory new-book quarantine, Durbin has stated that it is not possible to compute such a value. 

According to Durbin, as of June 4, Wellpath has gone through an entire sweep of the jail— everyone in custody was offered a vaccine at least once and some of them several times. Durbin has also emphasized that the intent is to provide vaccines to anyone who wants one. Further, incarcerated people can request to be vaccinated through inmate request forms and medical request forms.

However, with vaccines widely available, it can be assumed that a majority of individuals in custody are able to get vaccinated if they choose to do so. Many in Santa Rita Jail are choosing not to— a trend that Wellpath and ACSO are trying to reverse by providing incentives for accepting vaccines and more educational materials. A survey conducted by the ACPHD on SRJ’s population, to understand attitudes regarding COVID-19, showed that 50 percent of respondents did not trust the vaccine and 43 percent felt that it had not been thoroughly tested by scientists and doctors.

Cases & testing for jail staff

114 staff/contractor cases have been recorded since the pandemic emerged, all of them have recovered leaving no active cases.

On March 1, the Alameda County Health Officer issued a mandatory testing order for all ACSO employees who work at SRJ after multiple failures from ACSO to comply with the ACPHD’s recommendation to test 100 percent of staff per month or 25 percent of staff per week.

In the June 13 to June 26 testing cycle, 991 staff members were required to get tested, of which 934 complied and 57 did not. Out of the total 1138 ACSO SRJ staff, 147 were exempted from the testing requirement, due to extended time-off, religious reasons, etc. 

Since the mandatory testing program was implemented, 5 positive cases have been identified. 

On June 28, a Compliance Sergeant sent warning letters to 3 staff members who were out of compliance in two consecutive testing cycles.

Although the ACPHD issued the testing order, Watkins-Tartt has consistently held that her department is not an enforcement agency, so “compliance is in [ACSO’s] court.” She has refused to comment on the acceptability of the compliance rate, and emphasizes that they are working with ACSO to better understand the challenges they are facing regarding compliance.

Of all the staff members who failed to comply in all testing cycles, two have faced disciplinary action beyond warning letters, according to Captain Luckett-Fahimi. One of them was off-duty for a long period and returned to work assuming that he did not need to be tested since he was vaccinated. The other had not tested even once since the health order was implemented.

In response to the significant number of staff members out of compliance in each testing period, Luckett-Fahimi stated that, “it does not appear to us that people are purposefully avoiding getting tested.”

Vaccination progress for jail staff

Using the California Immunization Registry (CAIR), ACPHD matched 56.6 percent of the ACSO roster with records of individuals who received at least one dose, and 39.4 percent with records of fully vaccinated individuals, as of May 30.

These records, however, do not specify which ACSO division an employee works for. Consequently, the degree of immunity among those interacting with SRJ’s population is unknown, since there is no data specific to ACSO’s custody bureau.

Previously, using the CAIR database, ACPHD reported that 875 ACSO employees out of 1678 total employees matched with records of those who received at least 1 dose. For this data report, ACPHD had limited the search to residents in 9 Bay Area counties— if an ACSO employee was vaccinated outside any of these locations, they would not be included. 

The data as of May 30 was obtained by searching records in all California counties. However, there are still limitations with the accuracy and scope of CAIR data generally. Commander Sanchez highlighted that “missing data and a lack of consistent identification” are issues that other counties have reported as well.

Since the data available on staff vaccinations is limited and erroneous, ACSO could survey their staff to generate more accurate data. All staff members would self-report their vaccination status and the division of ACSO they work for. 

In response to a Public Records Act request on jail staff vaccinations in San Francisco County, the Dept. of Human Resources provided the total number of SFSO staff in the custody bureau who self-reported as fully or partially vaccinated. The Covid In-Custody Project has requested ACSO to implement a similar method to retrieve better quality data.

SRJ’s medical provider, Wellpath, has similarly surveyed their full-time and part-time medical staff for their vaccination status. Out of 216 staff members— 134 full-time and 82 part-time staff— roughly 77 percent are fully vaccinated. 35 reported that they have chosen not to get vaccinated, and 14 refused to disclose any information on their vaccination status.

Testing Report

From July 6 to July 19, approximately 514 tests have been administered at intake or in custody, of which 43 are pending results. Approximately 28 percent of the jail was tested in the last two weeks and 15 percent in the past week. Higher testing rates may be attributed to ongoing surveillance testing.

In the past month, roughly 59 percent of the jail population was tested. 

Between June 20 to July 3, the refusal rate for new books during the intake process has increased to 33 percent from 30 percent in the first two weeks of June. 405 out of 608 eligible individuals have consented to a test.

The refusal rate for expanded testing— conducted for patients with medical vulnerabilities, residents in open air units, and kitchen or laundry workers— has skyrocketed to 76 percent. 225 out of 479 eligible individuals have consented to a test. In early June, 32 percent of eligible individuals had refused

For individuals preparing for release or transfer, the refusal rate decreased to 10 percent from 25 percent in the first two weeks of June. 37 out of 41 eligible individuals have consented to a test.

There was a zero percent refusal rate in quarantined housing units subjected to surveillance testing. HU 6B was quarantined on July 1 due to a patient testing positive. All 28 residents in the unit— the only one under quarantine in this time period— consented to a test. It was released on July 16. 

HU 6 B was previously quarantined on May 14 due a patient testing positive. Quarantine was lifted on May 28. Durbin reported that all residents consented during surveillance testing and the results were negative.

Population Report

The jail population has remained fairly constant over the last 2 weeks. Currently, there are 2116 people in custody.

Since June 18, 14 individuals in SRJ pending transfer to the Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) were successfully transferred. Only 6 individuals are yet to be transferred as of July 9— the lowest number since October 2020. CDCR had halted intake from county jails for a majority of 2020, leaving many stuck in jails awaiting transfer, and pushing jail populations upwards. By February 2021, over 190 individuals in SRJ custody were pending transfer to CDCR. 

In March 2021, over 40 individuals in SRJ custody were awaiting transfer to the Department of State Hospitals (DSH). This number has since fallen to 29 as of July 9. 

There are 381 federal detainees in custody.

Housing Report

Between July 6 and July 19, a total of 12 housing pods were quarantined. Currently, there are five housing pods under quarantine, three of which are undergoing surveillance testing.

All of the total housing pods were quarantined for the second time in the last two months, or re-quarantined since the pandemic started. 

Seven housing pods were quarantined and then released during this period of time.

HU 6 B was quarantined on July 1 due to a patient testing positive. Since then, the unit underwent surveillance testing and was released from quarantine on July 16.

The same day that HU 6 B was released, HU 21 A, B, and C were quarantined and immediately subject to surveillance testing due to a patient testing positive.

This is the fifth instance within the past few months where a housing unit has undergone serial testing during quarantine due to an individual testing positive for COVID-19.

If a resident shows symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the housing unit is immediately quarantined, according to ACSO’s COVID-19 protocol. If the index case tests negative, quarantine is lifted. 

Here are a list of housing units currently quarantined:

HU 8 D was quarantined on July 14 due to a patient presenting COVID-19 symptoms. It is scheduled to be released from quarantine on July 29. (Last released from quarantine on June 18.)

HU 8 F was quarantined on July 17 due to a patient presenting COVID-19 symptoms. It is scheduled to be released from quarantine on July 16. (Last released from quarantine on June 15.)

HU 21 A, B, and C were quarantined on July 16 and immediately subject to surveillance testing due to a patient testing positive for COVID-19. (Last released from quarantine on January 14.)



Data on vaccinations for jail population as of July 9:

Ethnicity breakdown:

  • Out of 472 total first doses of Moderna, 172 were African American, 77 were White, 22 were Asian, 165 were Hispanic, 7 were Pacific Islander, 5 were Native American, and 24 identified as Other
  • Out of 390 total second doses of Moderna, 147 were African American, 58 were White, 16 were Asian, 136 were Hispanic, 7 were Pacific Islander, 5 were Native American, and 21 identified as Other
  • Out of 457 total single-shot doses of Janssen, 182 were African American, 78 were White, 20 were Asian, 145 were Hispanic, 13 were Pacific Islander, 3 were Native American, and 16 identified as Other

Gender breakdown:

  • 432 first doses and 363 second doses of Moderna were given to males, while only 40 first doses and 27 second doses were given to females.
  • 443 single-shot doses of Janssen were given to males, while only 14 were given to females.

Age breakdown for Moderna:

  • 162 first doses and 132 second doses were given to people ages 18 to 34.
  • 197 first doses and 158 second doses were given to people ages 35 to 49. 
  • 96 first doses and 84 second doses were given to people ages 50 to 64.
  • 15 first doses and 16 second doses were given to people ages 64 to 74.
  • Finally, two first doses and zero second doses were given to people 75 years of age or older.

Age breakdown for Janssen:

  • 208 doses were given to people ages 18 to 34.
  • 187 doses were given to people ages 35 to 49. 
  • 61 doses were given to people ages 50 to 64.
  • 1 dose was given to people ages 64 to 74.
  • Finally, zero doses were given to people 75 years of age or older.

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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