The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office announced last week that eight inmates tested positive for COVID-19. Four of them are still positive and being treated by correctional health aides inside the medical housing unit at the jail, according to a news release.
The inmates who tested positive were reportedly asymptomatic and were immediately placed into quarantine and treated, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Any inmates and staff who may have been in close contact with the affected inmates were tested. So far, no one else has reported testing positive.
Within the last few months approximately 1.5 percent of inmates at both Maguire Correctional Facility and Maple Street Correctional Center have tested positive for the coronavirus. Additionally, three correctional staff members have tested positive for the virus since March. The three employees were treated and were asked to quarantine at home. As a precautionary measure all personnel and inmates who were in contact with those employees were tested.
The Sheriff’s Office continues to practice health and safety protocols that have now been in place for months. They include not allowing any outside visitors, screening jail staff by checking their temperature and keeping inmates as separate as possible during recreation time.
Meanwhile, about a week ago, a group of inmates at Maguire Correctional facility started a multiday hunger strike. They were demanding lower prices for commissary merchandise, free phone calls and remote visits during the pandemic.
“We discovered that our commissary vendor charges prices that are higher than those of other local jails,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lt. Stephanie Josephson in a press release. “We have worked with our vendor and have agreed to lower the prices to match those of the other jails.”
All revenue from the commissary is used for inmate programs and commissary personnel, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sheriff’s Office has used computer tablets to conduct remote video calls between inmates and their visitors. Every inmate is able to receive two 30-minute video visitation sessions per week free of charge, according to Josephson.
To lower the risk of transmission, some people were allowed early release to reduce population sizes in the two county jails.
After consultation with the San Mateo County district attorney’s office, the private defender program and the probation department, people in jail determined not to be a threat to the public, those who have less than 60 days remaining on their sentences, and those in a high-risk category for the virus were considered for early release.
As a result the population in corrections is currently 38 percent of capacity.
California as a whole is navigating an escalating crisis in the state prison system with more than 2,600 inmates and 477 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Over the weekend, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported that three San Quentin death row inmates had died due to the disease.