Coronavirus outbreak at 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 services department. Health officials are now working to determine whether all cases are related to a single outbreak.  

This is the first recorded COVID-19 outbreak in Contra Costa County's jails, according to the health services department. 

The outbreak likely began at the Martinez facility, the health services agency said in its email, with cases in the Richmond facility associated with a transfer of one or more inmates who later tested positive for the virus. 

Sterling Bland tested positive for coronavirus at a jail in Richmond.

Nearly a dozen inmates began calling KTVU reporting the outbreak beginning on Monday. Many also told KTVU that they feel there are coronavirus protocols being violated, such as deputies not wearing masks and inmates being housed together in dorm rooms without the ability for proper social distancing. The inmates who called KTVU also said they don't have access to hand sanitizer.

One inmate called from building 8 in the Richmond facility and left a voicemail message saying people were being "double celled" and had no marks on the group to ensure they were being kept six feet apart. "The sheriff is not following none of the protocols," he said. 

A sheriff's spokesman did not have a comment about the virus outbreak, other than to refer KTVU to a coronavirus portal that tracks the virus in detention facilities. The website runs two weeks behind and only shows cases dating back to Dec. 5, when there were less than 10 cases. 

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

"His nose is running and he is having trouble breathing," Sanchez said on Wednesday. "He's in panic mode." 

The doctor told him to take deep breaths, Sanchez reported, "but he doesn't know how to do that because he's not breathing well." 

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

The health services agency said inmates who have the virus are under quarantine and they are providing COVID-19 testing to all staff and inmates who may have had contact with someone who tested positive. 

All inmates booked into Contra Costa County jail are tested for COVID-19 and quarantined for 14 days before entering their facility’s general population, the agency said. Any inmates with symptoms are tested and inmates are offered repeat COVID-19 tests upon demand. 

All staff working in county jail facilities are tested for COVID-19 every two weeks. 

The health services department said it had no information about a lack of compliance with the jail's COVID-19 safety policies because that is a matter that falls under the jurisdiction of the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office. 

As for compliance and protocols being followed, sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said that deputies and staff  "have been mandated to wear a mask since the outbreak began. That has not changed. A new mask is given to inmates every other day and they are encouraged to wear it."

He also said that detention facilities try to place one inmate to a cell, but that is not always possible given the inmate population, classification, and safety of the facility.

"It is important to stress that all inmates were quarantined before being placed in the general population and that includes inmates who are sharing a cell," Lee said in an email. 

Lee also said that hand sanitizers are available to all inmates at the deputy work stations at every module in the detention facilities.

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