By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A Santa Barbara County Jail inmate has contracted coronavirus, the first case among prisoners at the facility. Previously, one Santa Barbara County custody deputy tested positive for the virus.
Santa Maria police officers arrested the 40-year-old man on April 1 on charges of burglary, stalking and being under the influence of drugs. Officers then booked the man, who does not have any underlying health problems, into the Santa Barbara County Jail.
Sheriff’s officials are withholding the inmate’s name for safety and medical privacy reasons.
Under current protocol, newly admitted inmates are held for 14 days in a reception area that is separated from the general population of the jail. Upon completion of the two-week stay, inmates are examined by medical staff.
On April 14, the inmate now known to have coronavirus was found to have a fever during his medical exam. Jail staff then immediately quarantined the inmate to a negative pressure room in a special housing area and tested him for coronavirus.
The test results came back positive on Thursday night.
After receiving the positive test result, the sheriff’s officials conducted a contact tracking investigation to determine if anyone may have been exposed to the inmate while he was infected. The sheriff’s office forwarded the investigation to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department for evaluation and follow-up.
Sheriff’s officials say the inmate population at the jail has declined from 906 to 582 since California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4. Santa Barbara County officials have collaborated on identifying and releasing low-risk inmates accused of lower-level crimes, and the sheriff’s office released 52 additional inmates following a $0 bail order issued by the California Judicial Council.
Chief Custody Deputy Vincent Wasilewski said the release of inmates has allowed jail staff to implement a plan to protect the facility against the spread of coronavirus.
“The reduction in population we have experienced during the last month and a half has given us the opportunity to compartmentalize our population and develop a defend-in-place housing plan that we would not have been able to do otherwise,” Wasilewski said.
In addition to housing newly admitted inmates in a separate area for 14 days and then giving them medical exams, the sheriff’s office has implemented numerous other protocols. These include: conducting medical examinations of each new inmate in a private area outside the perimeter of the jail; checking the temperature of staff and all other individuals entering the facility; providing all staff and inmates with N95 masks; providing inmates with cleaning supplies and extra soap; increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting work crews throughout the facility; and providing education and information on how to stay healthy on a continuing basis.
Elsewhere in Santa Barbara County, the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc is experiencing the worst coronavirus outbreak among federal prisons. Thus far, there have been 80 coronavirus cases among Lompoc prison inmates and at least one death. Another 30 Lompoc prison staffers have also tested positive.
In San Luis Obispo County, one inmate at the California Men’s Colony has tested psoitive for the virus.
The population at the SLO County Jail dropped from 553 on March 1 to 371 this week, primarily because of a reduction in arrests during the pandemic. Additionally, the sheriff’s office released 16 inmates following the $0 bail order issued by the California Judicial Council.