Sheriff sees increase in COVID-19 cases as 3 captains test positive

Command staff among 10 infected members in past week

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases among its members, with three captains and seven other staffers testing positive in the last week alone, according to officials.

Ten of the 62 cases the department has recorded since last March were reported in the week ending Thursday, a trend that Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said is reflective of rising community spread in San Francisco.

“Members of our department are members of the community,” Miyamoto said Thursday. “I don’t think we are concerned about a location being a hot spot… but I do know that we are concerned about the increase.”

The Bay Area has been experiencing a third surge of the pandemic since November. Public health officials say new cases and hospitalizations in San Francisco have started to drop as of Monday, but remain up when compared to this summer.

While the Sheriff’s Department declined to offer details about the assignments of each member who tested positive, citing privacy protections, Miyamoto confirmed one of the coronavirus-positive captains attended a swearing-in ceremony at City Hall for the new assistant sheriff on Jan. 11.

The invite-only ceremony gathered some 20 members of the command staff and the family of now Assistant Sheriff Tanzanika Carter.

But Miyamoto said the other two captains who have since tested positive did not attend the ceremony and were stationed at different locations. It’s also unclear whether the captain who tested positive was infected at the time of the ceremony.

“Nothing has been connected to any specific event,” Miyamoto said. “It’s not a concern of ours at all that this was some sort of superspreader.”

Miyamoto said the department held the ceremony with COVID-19 protocols in place. A video of the ceremony posted to social media showed members of the command staff filing into the ceremony wearing masks.

While Department of Human Resources guidelines require all city employees who have “close contact” with someone who tested positive to quarantine for seven to 10 days, Miyamoto said those regulations did not apply to other ceremony attendees because the event lasted just minutes.

Close contact is defined as spending “more than 15 minutes total over 24 hours within six feet of someone with confirmed COVID-19 regardless of whether either party wore a face covering.”

The department did, however, notify everyone who attended the ceremony of the positive results and also encouraged them to get testing, according to spokesperson Nancy Crowley.

“I don’t have any regrets in regards to having an event,” Miyamoto said. “We have to actually swear people in as a part of our job. The recognition of her coming in as third in command here is something of note.”

The Sheriff’s Department regularly gathers its members indoors for muster. Law enforcement is exempt from The City’s shelter-in-place order to the extent they are performing essential services.

It’s unclear whether any of the other new positive cases were from deputies assigned to County Jail, where officials have been concerned about the potential for an outbreak since the pandemic started.

While there have been more cases in the last week than the average week in the last 10 months, the uptick does not appear to have translated into more COVID-19 cases behind bars.

Data shows the department currently has 17 inmates who have tested positive as of Thursday compared to a peak of 20 last month, and 13 of those inmates have “recovered.”

Miyamoto said the department is responding to the uptick by more frequently reminding members to follow safety protocols.

“We want to make things as safe as possible,” he said.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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