An undisclosed number of staff members at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin were sent home for a 14-day quarantine last week after a nurse tested positive for coronavirus at the facility.
The diagnosis on March 25 prompted an investigation to identify any inmates, medical staff and other jail personnel who might have been in contact with the unidentified nurse.
The nurse was the first case of suspected COVID-19 at the jail, which houses about 2,200 inmates.
"We will conduct further monitoring and testing of individuals who became symptomatic, and anyone who had close contact with the nurse," Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Tya Modeste said in a statement issued last week. "We have dedicated isolation areas within the facility where inmates will be monitored around the clock."
Public information officers for the Sheriff’s Office and the county’s Emergency Operations Center did not respond to requests for information this week.
The nurse, an employee of Wellpath Health Services, a contractor that provides health care to inmates at the jail, had worn personal protective equipment, including a N95 face mask, while working, Modeste said. The nurse was assigned to a specific area of the jail, which officials said was "beneficial and helpful" to find anyone who may have been in contact.
Jail officials notified the Alameda County Department of Public Health, Sheriff's Department officials, Wellpath and other contract employees about the diagnosis.
Trying to keep COVID-19 from spreading through the jail, the Alameda County health department directed the jail to stop all in-person visiting at the same time the Bay Area counties instituted shelter-in-place orders in March.
The suspension included all contact and non-contact visits in person, as well as video kiosks in the Santa Rita Jail lobby. The suspension continues through April 7.
Video visiting continues to be available from home use on compatible electronic devices.
For attorneys, non-contact visits are allowed in designated glass-partitioned booths.
The jail nurse’s diagnosis came just after Sheriff Gregory Ahern and Health Care Services Agency Director Colleen Chawla requested $85 million from the Board of Supervisors to hire 263 full-time employees during the next three years to work at the jail. The increased staffing would be used to expand jail programs, increase out-of-cell time for inmates and increase observation of suicide watch cells to 24 hours, seven days a week.
The request was placed on the board's March 31 agenda for discussion, but was continued to April 21. In addition, the request asked for funding for 107 jobs with Alameda County Health Care Agency/Alameda County Behavioral Health to meet staffing needs at the jail.
"All of the independent staffing experts agree that Santa Rita jail is understaffed in all areas," the agenda item said.
The same consultants also recommended that the Sheriff's Office increase private areas for medical and mental health evaluations, reconfigure safety cells, and modify indoor and outdoor recreation areas.
Critics have suggested Ahern was trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak to obtain the funding.
The county is facing a federal lawsuit over its jail, which has a high death rate. A study by KTVU discovered that nearly 50 inmates died in the jail since 2014. At least 80 percent committed suicide while being kept in isolation, KTVU reported.