A jail at the Hall of Justice is under quarantine and deputies cannot move in or out of the facility after a deputy tested positive for coronavirus. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Inmates under quarantine at SF Hall of Justice after deputy tests positive for COVID-19

The seventh-floor jail at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice is under quarantine after a sheriff’s deputy tested positive for the rapidly spreading coronavirus, officials said Monday.

No inmates are being allowed in or out of the facility, except to be released back into the community with directions to self-isolate, while doctors attempt to trace the steps of the infected deputy and isolate the spread of the virus.

Authorities learned Sunday that the deputy had tested positive while being treated at a facility outside The City, according to the Sheriff’s Department. He last appeared for work at County Jail No. 4 a week earlier, on March 15.

On Monday, health care workers began checking the temperatures of all inmates twice daily in response to the test results, said Dr. Lisa Pratt, the director of Jail Health Services.

Pratt said officials are also working to “reconstruct” the deputy’s shift at the jail and identify all inmates or staff members who he may have been in contact with.

“As we narrow down who is actually exposed to this person, then we can narrow down our surveillance,” Pratt told the San Francisco Examiner. “But right now we are testing a broad net just to be as safe as we can.”

Under the quarantine, Pratt said new inmates are not being admitted into the jail, while inmates already locked in the facility are not being moved to other locations or allowed to appear in court.

The facility regularly houses more than 200 incarcerated individuals.

“We are just keeping everyone in that location,” Pratt said.

Pratt said no inmates at any of the jails have tested positive for the virus as of Monday afternoon, while the fewer than 10 inmates who showed possible symptoms have been tested.

As in other jurisdictions across the nation, there has been a push to reduce the inmate population in San Francisco to prevent or minimize the effect of a potential outbreak of coronavirus behind bars.

Experts say jails can become breeding grounds for the virus because people including jail guards, attorneys and arrestees cycle through the confined facilities.

Last Friday, the San Francisco Superior Court signed off on the early release of 26 inmates who were due to be out within 60 days.

Another 45 inmates over the age of 6o and with underlying health conditions have been identified by Jail Health Services for possible release because they would likely fare poorly or even die if infected with the virus.

The Sheriff’s Department has helped find housing for some of the inmates who were released early, while the Public Defender’s Office has filed dozens of motions to secure the release of other incarcerated individuals.

Pratt said she has implemented measures to ensure that the virus is not spread through the jails, including social distancing and reminding inmates to clean items like playing cards or chess pieces.

She has also grouped inmates into cohorts so that if one person brings the virus into the jails, they only spread it to a segment of the population.

Pratt said she is unsure if the risk of infection has increased for inmates who were not exposed to the deputy.

“But at the same time, it is a closed system, a closed population, and so I worry about them all the time,” Pratt said.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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