Bay Area prisons see another COVID-19 surge

Two of the Bay Area’s biggest prisons are once again seeing massive spikes in COVID-19 cases amid a widespread omicron wave, and rising parallels between staff who work as caretakers for those We do.

Santa Clara County, which has the Bay Area’s largest prison population with 2,425 detained people, is seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 infections, rising from an active case on December 25 to 76 on January 6. Most recent. the date it published infection data online dashboard, But county executive Jeff Smith told a board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday that county jails are currently dealing with 234 active in-custody infections.

It topped a record-setting surge in November, when the number of active prison cases reached 159, a peak for Santa Clara County jails. That late-fall stretch also saw the region’s first officially documented death, who is believed to have contracted COVID-19 in prison.

Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Russell Davis said Tuesday that the Omicron wave has prompted prisons to hold off on visits until at least January 25, when the temporary measure will be reevaluated.

In Alameda County, the Santa Rita Prison in Dublin was reporting 220 active infections within the prison population of 2,230 people as of the end of Monday. On Christmas Day, the prison had reported a single active infection.

The biggest jump occurred overnight on January 6, when the total rose from 32 to 177. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which operates Santa Rita, reported that 89% of the active cases were classified as asymptomatic.

Contra Costa County was reporting 108 in-custody infections in its prisons as of Monday, which is four times the figure reported a week ago. In San Francisco, the sheriff’s office was reporting 26 active custodial prison infections as of Tuesday, and a total of 38 cases were reported for the month so far, already higher than any month’s total from the previous year. .

In San Mateo County, an increase in omicrons has prompted officials to halt prison visits and even programs that involve personal contact. The sheriff’s office there did not immediately respond to a request for data on COVID-19 prison cases.

In the midst of a surge in November, Santa Clara County custody and public health experts urged the county to bring the prison population down to 2,000, saying there really isn’t enough space in prisons to the point that people in custody can be accommodated. To properly quarantine those who have contracted COVID. -19.

That remains the case, Smith said, with county officials planning to contact the district attorney’s office to work to facilitate more prison releases. A series of amnesty measures in the first few months of the pandemic in 2020 reduced the prison census to around 2,100, but there is currently no consensus plan for completing the custodial health directive.

Advocates and lawyers for those in Santa Clara County jails argue that there are clear opportunities to further reduce the risk of infection in the custody setting.

County Chief Public Defender Molly O’Neill said her office is “outraged” at the lack of action to move toward the prison census count recommended by the Department of Detention Health.

“Absent that lack, sheriff and custody health cannot safely isolate and expose COVID positive and COVID-19,” O’Neill said. “It’s a recipe for disaster, and one that we had the ability to prevent. Despite the fact that we’ve known since Thanksgiving that Omicron was coming, and it was highly permeable, county agencies that detain populations.” controls, failed to act.

Some officials have been quick to point out that what is happening in prisons is a reflection of the wider population, where Omicron has become the dominant version of COVID-19 and is believed to be about three times as long as the delta version. Contagious, but has caused less severe disease.

“The prison is just like the rest of the world,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman, Sgt. Ray Kelly. “It’s a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere, in every sphere of life.”

A Santa Clara County statement said how “the nation has seen a sharp increase in Omicron-related COVID-19 cases. The very high transmittance of the Omicron version poses particular risks to prisons, prisons, and other collective care settings, And the county sheriff’s office said in a statement that the increase “appears to be in line with current public trends.”

Still, the numerous prisoner accounts given to this news organization for the past two weeks are of the mingling of infection-exposed and healthy people, shoddy cleaning and a lack of resources for people to clean themselves, and apparently overwhelmed prison staff. Continuing to paint the picture. Trying to enforce protocols in facilities that advocates inmate stress “were not designed for a pandemic.”

“Time is of the essence,” Elmwood prisoner Johnny Page wrote in a letter. “There may be more to be learned soon.”

Jose Valle II, an organizer specializing in prison issues with the civil rights group Silicon Valley D-Bug, said, “Prison administrations really need to follow suit on the recommendations of the custodial health they made. They have their own interpretation.” “