Infected inmate at Santa Rita Jail sparks fear of COVID-19 outbreak behind bars

At the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, a nurse and an inmate have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Alameda County sheriff's office. 

But attorneys representing inmates say they're worried about "community spread" behind bars, fearing that others could become infected.

"I would think that the jail also presents the same kind of scenario and that you've got people who are asymptomatic who are there," said civil rights attorney Yolanda Huang.

Huang represents many clients who have raised concerns over jail conditions.

Some are among the 600 inmates released over the past two weeks who were close to finishing their sentences or were being held for lower-level crimes. 

But one of Huang's clients, Diontay Shackelford, has been charged with murder and cannot be released. Huang said she last spoke to him before last weekend.

"He was stating that he had not felt well and had been trying to get medical attention. I haven't heard from him since," Huang said Monday.

Other inmates complained they weren't getting soap. Now, they are.

"The problem is, they're not allowed to take the soap with them when they go to court. So when they go to court, there's no soap in the bathrooms there, and they can't wash their hands," Huang said. 

She said jail cells are getting cleaned every day, but there are concerns over common areas. 

"They don't have access to sanitizer so they can sanitize the phone between each person's use. 

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office said it's following an "outbreak control plan" where impacted areas are being quarantined and professionally cleaned and sanitized.

"Our jail facility has supplies everywhere," said Sergeant Ray Kelly. "We just ordered several hundred thousand dollars worth of cleaning supplies."

Kelly said deputies are monitoring 40 inmates who may have had exposure to the infected inmate. About six to seven of them have flu or cold-like symptoms and are being tested.

"We do have good access to testing for the people in custody and our staff, so that's been very helpful," Kelly said. 

He said the sheriff's office is taking external temperatures of any incoming inmates, as well as the officers who are booking them. 

Like many other Bay Area jails, in-person family visits at Santa Rita have been suspended. But loved ones can still talk to inmates on the phone or through video chats.