The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office announced in an Aug. 15 press release that 11 additional inmates at the county’s main jail have tested positive for COVID-19.
One of those individuals tested positive on Aug. 13, prompting the jail to test 130 additional inmates in surrounding modules. Of those tested, 10 more came back positive, bringing the total number of positive inmates who have been housed at the main jail to 36. Out of that total number, 26 are active and contracted the virus within the facility, Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Raquel Zick said in an email.
FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
ASYMPTOMATIC OUTBREAK Santa Barbara County jail officials suspect that a recent COVID-19 outbreak among inmates originated with an asymptomatic individual.
“We can only suspect, because with the contact tracing it’s not exact, but we suspect that it originated with an asymptomatic inmate,” Zick said. “It’s the asymptomatic carriers that make it challenging for tracking and containing.”
Upon intake, all inmates are housed in a 14-day quarantine that is separate from the general population. Zick said that the asymptomatic person who started the outbreak may have made it through the 14-day quarantine period and into the general population where the virus was then unknowingly spread to additional inmates. The 14-day intake area is not solitary isolation, Zick added.
“They are around other inmates, but not in the general housing population,” she said. “We’ve been breaking up our stats so that it shows people who were COVID-positive at the time of intake, or before they got moved out of the intake housing area. We differentiated those from people who have made it into general population.”
While all inmates are screened for temperature and other symptoms upon intake, and all individuals are quarantined for the two-week period, not all inmates are tested, Zick said.
“If we could test everyone on a continual basis, that would be ideal, but there’s a few problems with that,” she said. “One of them being availability of testing, and then also, you can be negative today and positive tomorrow. We’re really trying to hit a moving target with a moving population.”
Those who are sick with symptoms and in need of medical attention, but not hospitalization, are housed in the jail’s negative airflow cells. However, those who test positive and are asymptomatic are not housed in the medical unit. Instead, those individuals are “bunked together,” Zick said, apart from the general population.
Two inmates so far have been transferred to local hospitals because of COVID-19, Zick said, but she could not specify when these transfers occurred.
One inmate has died, but the Sheriff's Office is still conducting a death investigation to confirm the cause of death. The inmate, 38-year-old Eduardo Velazquez, died on Aug. 11. He tested positive for COVID-19 on July 16, was hospitalized from July 17 to 29, and then released back to the jail.
“After his release from the hospital, Velazquez remained in medical isolation and was routinely checked during medical rounds,” a Sheriff’s Office press release stated. “He was last checked by medical staff yesterday [Aug. 11] at 8 p.m. and exhibited no significant health issues at that time.”
Precautions the jail is taking to prevent virus spread include face masks for all inmates, briefings and trainings for inmates on how to avoid infection, biweekly testing for staff, temperature checks and screenings for all staff and visitors prior to entering the facility, and required N-95 masks for all staff and visitors in the facility. ∆