Officials Hopeful Jail COVID-19 Outbreak is Contained


The Humboldt County jail. - FILE
  • File
  • The Humboldt County jail.

Officials are hopeful they have the COVID-19 outbreak at the Humboldt County jail contained.

Sheriff's Office spokesperson Samantha Karges told the Journal in a Dec. 27 email that while a total of 36 inmates have tested positive for the virus amid the current outbreak, all were from a single housing unit and no one else there had tested positive over the past three days, despite daily testing.

"Because of this, we will not transition to testing weekly, unless symptoms present in additional individuals," Karges wrote.

In addition to the 36 inmates, six correctional officers have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began earlier this month.

While COVID-positive inmates were initially being transferred into the jail's medical unit to be kept in quarantine, Karges said the outbreak grew to exceed the medical unit's capacity and the jail had "created a COVID-19 positive celled unit to allow all inmates to be isolated." She said medical staff is monitoring the converted unit.

Karges said the first inmate in the unit tested positive Dec. 15 and that the six correctional officers had tested positive for the virus before that date. She said it's unclear if the correctional officer cases are related to the outbreak among inmates.

Prior to the outbreak, Karges said staff were required to test for COVID-19 weekly, while inmates were tested during an initial 10-day quarantine after being booked into the facility. Those who refused testing were required to complete a 14-day quarantine. After the initial intake period, inmates were tested when requested “and/or” symptomatic, while inmates who were symptomatic but refusing a test were moved into isolation in the medical unit.

Local reporter Kym Kemp interviewed several people currently incarcerated in the affected unit over the weekend and reported they told her many inmates do not wear masks in the facility and questioned whether jail staff was acting appropriately to limit the virus' spread. You can read her report here.

It's unclear what percentage of jail staff and inmates have been fully vaccinated, which has been shown to help prevent infections, extreme disease and death. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors considered mandating vaccinations for county employees in October, but instead decided to require unvaccinated employees to undergo weekly testing for the virus.

Sheriff's Capt. Duane Christian told Kemp he believes about half of correctional officers are fully vaccinated.

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