Santa Rita Jail is experiencing its worst outbreak so far. Here’s what we know about vaccinations for the population and staff

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By Aparna Komarla & Anjali Govindapanicker

This report is written by the Covid In-Custody Project — an independent journalism project that partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic in California’s county jails and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to the public eye. Refer to our website to view and download the raw data.

There have been multiple surges of COVID-19 in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail (SRJ) over the course of the pandemic, but the current outbreak is the largest one the facility has seen. On Friday, over 177 active cases were reported in the jail’s population of over 2,000 people. Another 50 cases were reported among the jail’s staff members. According to the facility’s outbreak control plan, 197 incarcerated people have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to developing complications associated with the virus. 

Active COVID-19 cases in Santa Rita Jail reaches 177 on January 7, 2022. Source: www.covidincustody.org/data

Updates on vaccinations for SRJ population

As of Dec. 29, only 29% of the jail or 626 individuals in custody are fully vaccinated. Incarcerated people are offered vaccines on day 12, 13 and 14 of their mandatory 14-day intake quarantine period and have the option to request a vaccine via sick calls. Despite these resources, the vaccination rate has consistently been below 30% since the rollout began in early 2021.

Mike Durbin, health services administrator for Wellpath, the jail’s medical provider, stated last month that he plans to collaborate with Alameda County’s public health department to improve the vaccine distribution and acceptance. He stated that four public health nurses may be assigned to help with this initiative. He added that the nurses would work alongside Wellpath in the vaccine clinic to address the vaccine hesitancy patients might have in real time. Previously, Durbin had stated that incarcerated people place sick calls requesting a vaccine but change their mind when a nurse arrives to administer the dose. He pointed out that responding to calls within 24 hours could alleviate this issue, and having additional nurses could make this timely response possible.

Updates on testing for Santa Rita Jail population

While COVID-19 testing is offered to everyone during the intake booking process, it is not mandatory. In the last three months, on average, 48% of individuals refused to get tested at intake on any given day. Testing is also offered to those residing in housing units that have been exposed to the virus, and typically they have a 100% acceptance rate. However, pod workers, medically vulnerable individuals, and those residing in open-air units have a very high test refusal rate. Since October, an average of 89% of them have refused testing when offered. 

Updates on vaccinations for staff in Santa Rita Jail and Sheriff’s Office

As of Dec. 10, there are 1725 employees working in the sheriff’s office. 59% of them are fully vaccinated — an increase of 10% since October.

Of the 750 sheriff’s office employees who are permanently assigned to work at Santa Rita Jail, i.e. belong to the custody bureau, 60% are fully vaccinated. While this is an increase of 7% since October, it is still not sufficient to thoroughly protect the incarcerated population from COVID-19 transmissions. In addition to custody staff, several sheriff’s office employees are assigned to work at the jail on mandatory overtime or other assignments. The vaccination rate for the jail’s non-primary staff is even lower — only 55% of 444 employees are fully vaccinated. 

Updates on mandatory testing implementation for Santa Rita Jail’s staff

On July 26 2021, the CA Department of Public Health issued a health order requiring staff members in correctional settings to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Prior to the state’s order, Alameda County’s public health department had issued a mandatory testing order for all jail staff members regardless of their vaccination status. For both orders, the Covid In-Custody Project has been monitoring the compliance rates. While the compliance with the July 26 order was low in the beginning of the testing implementation, it has been trending upwards in the last three months. 

In the week of Dec. 4, 1194 SRJ employees were subject to the July 26 mandate. Only 622 of them or 52% were fully vaccinated. Several staff members included in the population count were exempted since they did not work a shift at the jail. This meant that 449 employees had to undergo weekly testing, and 95% complied. Since October, over 95% of employees have complied with the testing requirement. The lowest compliance rate was reported for the week of Nov. 20, when 7% of employees who were required to test did not submit to one. 

Updates on vaccinations for Wellpath medical staff

On August 19 2021, the California Departments of Public Health’s (CDPH) issued a mandatory vaccination order for healthcare staff working in correctional facilities. Non-medical staff who may transmit infections by virtue of being in a medical setting are also required to get vaccinated under the health order. For SRJ, this meant that all of Wellpath’s medical workers, and a handful of jail employees in the sheriff’s office must have been fully vaccinated by the October 14 deadline for compliance. However, of the 212 Wellpath medical staff, only 199 or 94% are fully vaccinated as of Dec. 10. This is an increase of 8% since September, however, it still does not meet the 100% compliance requirement set forth by the CDPH’s mandate. 

Of the 18 sheriff’s office employees working in medical settings, 100% are reportedly fully vaccinated.

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About The Author

Aparna Komarla leads the Covid In-Custody project, which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic's impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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