San Francisco Sheriff’s deputies patrol outside City Hall on Thursday, March 26, 2020 after the building was closed following confirmation of a deputy becoming infected by COVID-19. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Second deputy at SF Hall of Justice jail tests positive as inmate count shrinks

Doctor says inmate count needs to fall further to mitigate potential outbreak

A second sheriff’s deputy at the jail above San Francisco’s criminal courthouse has tested positive for the coronavirus amid concerns that there are still too many inmates behind bars to contain a possible outbreak.

The deputy, who worked at County Jail No. 4 at the Hall of Justice, tested positive Sunday after coming into contact with an infected deputy at the facility, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department confirmed Wednesday.

The results initially increased the threat of infection for inmates and staff, but neither have been to work since March 17, and the 14-day incubation period has since ended without any others testing positive, officials said.

Still, the doctor responsible for the health of inmates said the jail count at all the facilities run by San Francisco has not fallen far enough to protect inmates and staff if an outbreak were to occur behind bars.

“The population density remains above a level that I would deem safe in the jails in the setting of an outbreak,” said Dr. Lisa Pratt, the head of Jail Health Services with the Department of Public Health.

To effectively implement social distancing, Pratt has called on criminal justice leaders to reduce the number of inmates in San Francisco from an average of around 1,100 in February to between 700 and 800.

And the jail count did inch toward 800 throughout the month of March, reaching a low of 838 as of Wednesday morning, but Pratt said that the density of the population currently “renders distancing very difficult.”

Since March 20, the public defender and district attorney have agreed to release 37 inmates early in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Most if not all of the inmates, who were being held for offenses ranging from probation violations to assault with a deadly weapon, were due to complete their sentences within 60 days.

But the district attorney and public defender have also examined releasing individuals who were at risk of infection due to age or a health condition.

“I don’t think the releases have plateaued yet — but the ‘low hanging fruit’ or more straightforward cases to resolve have moved, resulting in the releases that have been effected,” Pratt said.

There are a total of five employees with the Sheriff’s Department who have tested positive and 37 who are either off work or remain under quarantine because of the virus as of Tuesday.

They include a cadet who screened bags at City Hall, and a senior deputy at City Hall who visited both Laguna Honda Hospital and the Emergency Operations Center before testing positive.

A sixth employee who initially tested positive — another deputy assigned to the Hall of Justice jail — later found out that their test results were a false positive, according to the department.

Another 26 sheriff’s staffers have tested negative.

The Sheriff’s Department has been hit harder by the virus than other first responder agencies in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, Police Chief Bill Scott said just two of his officers had tested positive for the virus — both of whom worked out of the Special Victims Unit at the Hall of Justice.

Another 54 were under quarantine, but some have returned back to work.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Scott said at a press conference. “We hope that we can continue to see this good fortune come our way because we have not been severly impacted at this point.”

A dispatcher at the 911 center has also tested positive.

But the Fire Department did not have any cases to report as of last Friday.

Last week, Mayor London Breed announced that first responders who show symptoms related to the virus would be eligible for priority testing.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Crime

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