Starting on Friday at 5 p.m., visits at county jails in San Francisco have been suspended for the time being, in order to protect inmates and staff from exposure to the novel coronavirus.
While there are no known cases of the virus, also known as COVID-19, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto made the decision in consultation with the Department of Public Health Jail Health Services.
"As San Francisco and California move toward more restrictive measures to reduce the risk of everyone's exposure, we must follow suit to protect everyone's health and safety under our care," Miyamoto said in a statement.
"The COVID-19 public health emergency is constantly evolving," Dr. Lisa Pratt, Jail Health Services director, said. "We will reassess our operations each day and monitor recommendations from local and state health officials as cases decline in the community."
Although visits are suspended, inmates will still have non-contact access to their legal counsel in the jails.
Miyamoto said the Sheriff's Department is also looking into video visits and video conferencing as alternatives.
"We are sensitive to the difficulties that suspended visits may cause families of the incarcerated," Miyamoto said. "We value visitation as an essential part of rehabilitation and encourage families to stay in touch with their loved ones and friends through phone calls and letters. We are reviewing our jail operations and will make adjustments to accommodate future visiting."
On Thursday, the Sheriff's Department released its COVID-19 Response and Action Plan, which addresses every level of exposure, which includes a mobilization plan that outlines how deputies can protect themselves and inmates during an outbreak.
In addition, the Sheriff's Department has already implemented steps to stop the spread in jails and other public spaces where deputies provide law enforcement services.
Steps include working with DPH to identify and support vulnerable populations; posting notices for inmates and the public about prevention strategies like frequent hand washing and refraining from touching their face; issuing training bulletins, health and safety reminders, and video messages to staff about protecting the public from an outbreak; and identifying housing for medical isolation if needed.
Additionally, the department has also begun increased cleaning and sanitizing of its jails and workspaces.
Earlier this week, San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju called on Miyamoto to release inmates most at risk of contracting the coronavirus, including those who are over 60 years old, inmates with heart or lung disease, diabetes and those suffering from cancer, HIV or autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or multiple sclerosis.