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Santa Rita Jail COVID Outbreak Highlights Lack of Facility Vaccination

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The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin is reporting yet another COVID-19 spike. Of the 44 inmates who recently tested positive, nine are symptomatic. Ten staff members also tested positive. A dismal vaccination rate among staff and inmates is certainly a factor in the current case surge.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, an Alameda County sheriff’s spokesperson, said Tuesday that while none of the symptomatic cases are severe, they are all being isolated and closely observed. The other 35 positive inmates are being quarantined. 

This is not the first outbreak rodeo for Santa Rita; the jail experienced a July 2020 spike of 110 cases among inmates.

Protest action held at Alameda County Jail Santa Rita in October 2018. Photo courtesy of Oakland North

Thankfully, no COVID-19 deaths have been reported at the jail and it has so far avoided a massive outbreak like what was seen at San Quentin State Prison last year.  

In a strange turn of events following that summer spike, it was discovered that the jail’s medical director was using her position to supply herself with opioids. Jessica Waldura was fired as a result and her COVID-19 response was scrutinized due to her alleged drug use. 

“We’ve been down this road before. … We’ll get through this spike,” Kelly said.

The jail’s Outbreak Plan, last revised in February, outlines a color-coded quarantine system for inmates of varying risk, illness and exposure levels. Prior to being housed, new inmates are given a health screening outside the facility, with screenings provided by Wellpath. However, it does not appear that all inmates are automatically quarantined after booking. 

Unlike neighboring Contra Costa, Alameda County has not yet issued a mandate for county workers and, as Oaklandside reported Friday, most of the jail’s staff members and inmate population were still unvaccinated at the end of August. Data provided by the sheriff’s office showed that only 496 of the 1,184 of Santa Rita Jail sheriff’s staff confirmed that they were vaccinated at the time.

It is unknown if the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Alameda County will oppose a potential vaccine mandate, as we’ve seen from other law enforcement unions and the Alameda County firefighter’s union.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the county health department is reporting a 3.6 percent test positivity rate in all of Alameda County, including Berkeley. There were a total of 205 COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Sunday, with 64 being treated in ICU beds. 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.