COVID-19 Outbreak Concerns at Santa Clara County Jails

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A COVID-19 outbreak at Santa Clara County jails is forcing the county to look for alternatives, including asking neighbors for help.

The main concern is at Elmwood. And the biggest obstacle is isolation. How do you isolate inmates when there aren’t enough beds?

The sheriff says the latest outbreak at Elmwood Jail began when someone showed up with the virus at intake -- it then spreads quickly.

“As of Friday, I believe it was 159 positive individuals at the Elmwood system, and that number seems to be growing,” said Walter Wilson.

On Monday, the sheriff told a county watchdog group, called The Community Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring Committee, that they ran out of beds to isolate infected inmates and those at high risk.

The committee called an emergency meeting Monday.

“Public health has recommended single cells for people who have high risk exposure and those who are covid positive,” said Laurie Smith, Santa Clara County Sheriff. “And we really have run out of the ability to do that.”

 The sheriff is now urging county leaders to ask neighboring counties if they can rent and use some of their beds.

Sheriff Smith said, adding to the issue, that many inmates are not vaccinated. She says she's unsure that there is a way to force vaccination on them.

“That’s a problem. That’s a huge problem,” she said.

In the meantime, the jails are making adjustments to try and contain the outbreak.

Including temperature screenings for anyone who enters the jails.

But, the sheriff admits, letting people out isn't a good option and there's only so much that can be done without more space.

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