Coronavirus outbreak in Contra Costa County jails

Contra Costa Health Services is investigating a COVID-19 outbreak among inmates at Martinez Detention Facility and West Contra Costa Detention Facility in Richmond, KTVU has learned.

As of Wednesday morning, 36 inmates tested positive for COVID-19. None of them required hospitalization, according to an email sent to KTVU by the health department. Health officials are now working to determine if all cases are related to a single outbreak.

According to the health authority, this is the first recorded COVID-19 outbreak in Contra Costa County jails.

The outbreak likely started in the Martinez facility, the health department said in its email, with cases at the Richmond facility linked to a transfer of one or more inmates who later tested positive for the virus.

Sterling Bland tested positive for coronavirus in a Richmond prison.

Nearly a dozen inmates started calling KTVU, reporting that the outbreak began on Monday. Many also told KTVU they feel coronavirus protocols are being violated, such as deputies not wearing masks and inmates housed together in dormitories with no ability to distance themselves appropriately. The inmates who called KTVU also said they don’t have access to hand sanitizer.

An inmate called from Building 8 at the Richmond facility and left a voice mail stating that people were “double-celled” and had no marks on the group to make sure they were kept six feet apart. “The sheriff doesn’t follow any of the protocols,” he said.

A sheriff’s spokesperson had no comment on the outbreak other than to refer KTVU to a coronavirus portal tracking the virus in detention centers. The website is two weeks behind and only shows cases dating back to December 5, when there were less than 10 cases.

Rayanne Sanchez said her husband, Sterling Bland, who is in prison for 90 days for a probation violation, is one of the inmates who tested positive for the coronavirus.

“His nose is running and he’s having trouble breathing,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “He’s in a panic.”

The doctor told him to take a deep breath, Sanchez reported, “but he doesn’t know how to do that because he’s not breathing properly.”

Bland has since moved from Richmond to the Martinez facility, where he is now in quarantine and allowed out of his cell for only an hour.

The health department said that inmates who have the virus are in quarantine and that they are conducting COVID-19 testing on all staff and inmates who may have had contact with someone who tested positive.

All inmates admitted to the Contra Costa County prison are tested for COVID-19 and quarantined for 14 days before entering the general population of their facility, the agency said. All inmates with symptoms are tested, and inmates are offered repeat COVID-19 tests upon request.

All personnel working in the county prison facilities are tested for COVID-19 every two weeks.

The health department said it had no information about a lack of compliance with the prison’s COVID-19 security policy, as that is a matter that falls under the jurisdiction of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office.

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at [email protected] or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez