15 inmates at Santa Rita Jail test positive for COVID-19

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As of Sunday, Santa Rita Jail has 15 inmates who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office website.

Concerns about conditions inside the jail — including dormitory-style sleeping arrangements and alleged inadequate health care — have led attorneys and leaders from faith-based community organizations to urge reductions in the jail’s population. 1,925 inmates remain in the jail as of Sunday, down from a total of 2,597 on March 1 after activists called for inmates to be released.

Attorney EmilyRose Johns said people should be released, given adequate health care and be allowed to shelter-in-place at home at a virtual press conference for Santa Rita Jail Solidarity — an organization composed of inmates rights activists — Thursday.

“There are individuals incarcerated in the jail who have likely been exposed,” Johns said during the press conference. “They should be given every opportunity, regardless of conviction status, to be healthy and safe.”

A letter signed by Santa Rita Jail Solidarity urged the county to stop incarcerating people at Santa Rita Jail, as well as do more to meet the immediate needs of people within the jail. The letter also states that the jail should better take into account elderly and medically vulnerable inmates, rather than just releasing “low-risk” inmates.

According to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office website, the jail has implemented “robust” cleaning and sanitation procedures. Anyone entering the jail is medically screened, which includes detailed questioning and temperature checks. The jail also has newly installed hand-washing stations that must be used by all who enter, along with protective masks and eyewear.

The letter, however, alleged that cleaning supplies within the jail are withheld, symptomatic people are not being properly treated and masks have not been provided as claimed by the sheriff’s office.

“There is simply no guarantee that nurses and deputies are actually wearing masks and observing mandatory ‘social distancing,’ ” the letter reads.

Another point of concern is that inmates are not tested for COVID-19 upon release, alleged Jean Moses, a member of Faith in Action. She added that people exiting the jail may be carrying the disease without showing any symptoms. As a result, Moses said it was important that released inmates have access to quality health care and somewhere to safely shelter-in-place.

Moses said the sheriff’s office and Alameda County Public Health Department have been working together “more than usual” to accommodate inmates who have been released but noted that there was still more work to be done.

“As a member of the interfaith coalition for justice in our jails, we are super appreciative of work being done around county agencies and info being shared,” Moses said. “We hope that this level of cooperation and transparency will be continued when the pandemic is not such a threat.”

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.