First jail inmate tests positive for coronavirus

The case spurs calls to accelerate releases and prevent an outbreak

San Francisco has confirmed its first known coronavirus case in county jail, San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said Thursday.

A person in custody at San Francisco County Jail for 24 hours and isolated from the general population tested positive for coronavirus, the Sheriff’s Department said Thursday. The person had been released before test results came back and has since been contaced by the Department of Public Health.

“We were prepared for this eventuality and are doing everything we can to protect the people in our custody as well as the health and safety of the greater community that we serve,” Miyamoto said. “Sheriff’s Office staff and Jail Health Services have worked in overdrive to minimize contact among the people in our jails.”

The case comes as the City scrambles to reduce its jail population to prepare for an outbreak of incarcerated people in close quarters. The population dropped 35 percent from its average count in January to 733 people Thursday — a historic low, said the Sheriff’s Department.

Since the emergency declaration, the Sheriff’s Department has isolated newly booked people in County Jail No. 2 to separate them from incarcerated people in County Jails No. 4 and No. 5, and also put people more than 60 years old in single sells.

Five staff members, including two deputies at County Jail No. 4, tested positive in March.

San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju called the positive case “nearly inevitable” but expressed deep concern over the need to prevent an outbreak like the one at MSC South, where at 93 guests and 10 staff members have tested positive at the homeless shelter. He called for the release of as many incarcerated people as possible and for adequate personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for those remaining.

“Any positive test poses a direct threat to the safety and security of the jail population and makes clear that more must be done,” Raju said in a statement. “We need to continue taking preventative measures to prevent the spread of the virus, rather than waiting for the situation to get worse.”

Raju also called for the Department of Public Health to immediately implement the Board of Supervisors’ legislation passed Tuesday to obtain another 8,250 hotel rooms for those without housing, including people just released from jail.

“Despite the reductions in the jail population, multiple strangers still share sinks, toilets, and bunk beds,” Raju said in a statement. “These conditions prevent social distancing and proper hygiene and continue to be dangerous for everyone living or working inside the jails.”

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer introduced legislation Tuesday to close County Jail No. 4 above the Hall of Justice within six months. The legislation calls for The City to reduce the jail population and avoid sending remaining inmates to Alameda County.

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