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Sonoma County Jail reports surge in COVID-19 cases

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The Sonoma County Jail has seen an unprecedented surge in the number of inmates and correctional staff testing positive for the coronavirus this month, paralleling an increase of cases locally and throughout the state.

Since Nov. 30, 18 inmates at the facility have tested positive for the respiratory disease, making up about 30% of the 61 inmates at the facility who have tested positive for the virus since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, data provide by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday showed.

The virus also was detected in 10 jail employees since the end of November, marking the first confirmed cases among the facility’s staff, according to the data.

None of the cases has resulted in serious illness or hospitalization, said Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram, who oversees operations at the jail.

In Mendocino County, corrections officials reported that an outbreak within the county jail’s inmate and staff first detected on Dec. 19 continues to grow.

Sonoma County’s surge of cases comes as the area logged an average of about 271 new coronavirus cases per day between Dec. 15-28, the county’s highest 14-day case rate during the pandemic.

“The rate in the community ticks up and people being arrested come in, so that’s going to tick up the numbers,” Engram said. “It’s concerning and we’re going to mitigate that.”

Twelve of the 18 cases detected within Sonoma County’s inmate population since late November came from people newly booked at the facility, Engram said.

All new inmates are tested three or four days after they are booked and are placed in isolated cells in a housing area for new arrivals for 14 days, a procedure the facility adopted over the summer, Engram said.

If the test comes back negative, those inmates are allowed to come out of their cells in small groups, though they need to wait 14 days and show no symptoms of the coronavirus before they can be moved to other parts of the jail designated for general population inmates, he added.

Those who have contracted the virus are placed in isolated negative pressure cells located throughout the facility until they recover.

Of the 18 inmates who tested positive while at the jail, seven have since been released. The facility has enough space to safely isolate the remaining 11, Engram said.

The Sonoma County Jail currently houses 670 inmates, a bit more than half of the 1,100 inmates it typically housed before the pandemic, he added.

The current total includes inmates who would normally be housed at the North County Detention Facility, which was closed about five weeks ago because of the small number of people, about 30, who were being held there, Engram said.

The jail is also investigating another grouping of cases, the first of which cropped up late last week, in a general population module for longer-term inmates, Engram said.

Testing in that module, which houses roughly 100 people and where inmates are also allowed out of their cells in small groups, has identified six inmates with the coronavirus.

About 70 inmates in the module had been tested as of Tuesday afternoon and the remaining tests are expected to be completed by the end of the week, Engram said.

“Right now we are doing contact tracing to figure out how we getting cases in that module,” Engram said.

All but two of the 10 employees who tested positive for the coronavirus in the past month have returned to work, Engram said.

Contact tracing of those employees showed no clear trends, though jail officials have found no signs of staff passing the virus from one person to another, Engram said.

“What we do is we look at our sign-in sheets and look at who was screened by medical,” Engram said of the tracing. “They go back several weeks to see, for an employee who tested positive, who they could have been in contact with.”

In addition to the new inmate cases in Mendocino County, five additional employees at the jail there have tested positive for the coronavirus since the facility announced the recent outbreak among inmates and staff last week, Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said.

At that time, tests detected the virus in 17 inmates and three corrections employees.

An initial round of testing for nearly all inmates, save for those who declined a test, wrapped up last week.The results for the final batch of tests are still pending, Kendall said.

Staff Writer Ethan Varian contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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