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Sonoma County Jail COVID-19 outbreak on the decline

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The Sonoma County Jail has lifted a lockdown on one housing unit and could soon do so for two others now under COVID-19 quarantine, officials say, as the outbreak there — the largest since the pandemic began — slows.

Officials cleared one unit Tuesday after every person detained within it tested negative for COVID-19 twice over 10 days, according to jail overseer Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram.

As of Tuesday, 188 inmates were under quarantine in the three remaining units, meaning that no one can go in or out other than correctional deputies, people who have posted bail or those who have completed their jail sentence.

“Things are looking up,” Engram said. "Provided those tests come back negative, we will clear two units on (Feb. 9).“

A total of 295 people at the Main Adult Detention Facility in Santa Rosa have tested positive since the end of December, when the outbreak began when two staff members contracted the virus, followed by two people detained in two separate units.

The outbreak quickly spread to two other units in the subsequent weeks.

The average population at the jail was 694 during this time frame, Engram said.

The total number of cases does not include those who tested positive while they were booked inside the jail but have been released in the interim, Engram said. This means the actual number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 during the facility’s outbreak could be much higher.

Of the reported number of infected inmates, 121 have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 18 as of Tuesday.

No inmate has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19 complications, according to Engram.

As of Tuesday, eight deputies were out after testing positive. This is down from the 20 who were out sick in mid-January.

The jail is providing inmates two KN95 masks per week, Engram said, which are among the most effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Local attorney Heather Wise, who represents multiple people booked at the jail, said the progress is welcome, as the outbreak has posed a challenge to defense attorneys hoping to provide services to jailed defendants.

“I think their efforts made pretty good progress to do what they can to limit the increase of COVID-19. It does seem like things are improving considerably from where they were a few week ago,” agreed another local defense attorney, Evan Zelig.

This is the third substantial COVID-19 outbreak among inmates at the jail since the beginning of the pandemic.

The first took place just over a year ago.

In December 2020, 18 inmates were infected as virus cases surged countywide during the winter. In July 2021, a total of 31 detainees came down with the virus.

Though the recent surge is the most extensive, Engram said the jail has been “constantly in outbreak” for nearly two years according to state health regulations, which define an outbreak as three or more confirmed positives over a 14-day period.

COVID-19 rates, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant, are now on the decline after weeks of skyrocketing numbers. Hospitalizations remain high, though they are also trending down.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat  

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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