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Calif. sheriff’s department halts jail visits amid COVID-19 outbreak

At least 73 people in custody in San Diego County jails tested positive for COVID-19 last week

By Alex Riggins
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — At least 73 people in custody in San Diego County jails tested positive for COVID-19 last week, prompting the Sheriff’s Department to halt in-person visits.

The outbreak was detected after “several people” at three jails reported flu-like symptoms, according to a Sheriff’s Department news release. Those people were immediately tested for COVID-19 and isolated, and their housing units were quarantined, the department said.

When those first tests came back positive, 369 more inmates were tested due to potential exposure, with 73 testing positive and 296 testing negative, the department said. One infected inmate was hospitalized as of Friday, while the “vast majority” of the others “are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms,” according to the news release.

Additional testing was conducted on inmates assigned to housing units near those who tested positive, but many of those results were pending as of Friday afternoon, according to the department.

The department’s COVID-19 jail status report, typically updated daily, showed there were 68 active cases Friday at George F. Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa, three at the downtown San Diego Central Jail and one each at the Vista Detention Facility and the Las Colinas Detention and Re-Entry Facility, the women’s jail in Santee.

Those who first complained of the flu-like symptoms were in custody at the Central Jail, George F. Bailey and the East Mesa Reentry Facility, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Daily jail status reports showed active cases at George F. Bailey went from 26 on Wednesday to 42 on Thursday to 68 by Friday.

At the Central Jail, there were three active cases Wednesday, 13 on Thursday and three Friday, according to the reports. The Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to questions about the changing numbers and whether it was possible COVID-positive inmates from the Central Jail had been moved to George F. Bailey.

Because of the growing number of cases, sheriff’s officials suspended in-person visits at all county jails as of Friday, reverting to “a more restrictive environment” like the one enforced earlier in the pandemic. Since the pandemic began, at least 1,318 inmates have tested positive for the virus, and two have died from COVID-19 while in custody.

The ACLU and two law firms filed a class-action lawsuit in March seeking to force Sheriff Bill Gore to do more to control the spread of the virus in the county jail system, such as testing more inmates, increasing the number of vaccinations and maintaining safe distances between inmates.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, as of Aug. 7 jail officials had offered COVID-19 vaccines to 11,942 inmates and vaccinated 3,189.

©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune.