MILPITAS — Two more Santa Clara County jail inmates tested positive for COVID-19 this week, prompting the testing of more than 300 men being held in the same minimum-security camp, and coming after another reported infection case from the weekend.
Those three new cases, reported in a five-day span, bring the county jail system’s total of past and present virus infections to six since mid-March.
Authorities say the most recent infections surfaced Tuesday when an inmate presented flu-like symptoms and was moved to a negative-airflow isolation cell, a room designed to keep germs from leaving the space. The inmate was booked a year ago into the Elmwood minimum-security camp in Milpitas and being prosecuted for what the sheriff’s office described as “numerous felonies.”
About two hours later, the 29 inmates who shared the housing barracks of the sick man were “rehoused into isolation cells” and then tested for COVID-19. The next day, on Wednesday, one of those isolated men tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the sheriff’s office said, adding that the newly infected inmate was also moved to a negative-airflow cell.
The sheriff’s office was asked by this news organization Tuesday about whether minimum-security inmates were being quarantined — based on an inmate’s account relayed to his partner — but the agency said no such activity was happening. Its news release announcing the latest infections now indicates that was not true.
Because of exposure concerns, the sheriff’s office said it was testing all 344 inmates in the minimum-security camp — which holds only male inmates — as well as jail staff who may have had contact with them. The agency’s in-house contact-tracing team was also summoned to track down anyone the exposed staff and inmates may have in turn exposed.
The new case information comes after this news organization first reported Tuesday that a county inmate tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, which the sheriff’s office says occurred Saturday. That inmate was booked into the Main Jail in San Jose on May 9 and was immediately put into a 14-day quarantine, a practice instituted back in March once cases were on the rise in the South Bay.
On the inmate’s final day of quarantine, he tested positive for the virus, the sheriff’s office said. The 24 inmates that overlapped with the infected man were tested for COVID-19 and the results were negative, officials said.
The risk of a jail-based virus outbreak has fueled wide efforts in the Bay Area to decrease jail crowding primarily through the release of nonviolent and low-level pretrial detainees, and the early release of offenders with expiring jail sentences or who are in frail health. The state Judicial Council also instituted emergency measures including setting $0 bail for misdemeanors and some low-level felonies.
In Santa Clara County, the jail population as Wednesday morning was at 2,165, a 32% decrease from the roughly 3,200 inmates held in the county as of mid-March when the nation’s first shelter-in-place order was issued in the region.
Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail has recorded at least 54 COVID-19 cases among its inmate population since the pandemic arrived in the area. San Francisco jails have recorded at least four cases, Contra Costa County has recorded at least one jail case, and San Mateo County has not publicly reported an in-custody COVID-19 case to date.