On December 23, 2020, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office announced COVID-19 had breached the county jail’s walls, and outbreak measures were put into practice. As of now, Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said approximately 120 have tested positive for COVID-19 including 10-12 staff members.
A total of two inmates have been hospitalized after contracting the virus, Sheriff Kendall said. He added that the overwhelming majority of individuals who tested positive experienced minor symptoms.
Sheriff Kendall said the majority of corrections deputies have returned to work easing some of the staffing shortages the jail was experiencing early on.
In response to the outbreak, Sheriff Kendall explained he collaborated with NavCare, the nursing staff contracted to work at the jail, to increase the number of nurses providing care in the facility.
Releasing inmates after they have served their sentence has proven an exercise in collaboration with public health, Sheriff Kendall explained. If an inmate’s sentence is up, Sheriff Kendall said the jail is obligated to release them, regardless if they tested positive for the virus.
If an inmate is COVID positive upon release, Sheriff Kendall explained Public Health personnel would inform the inmate of his duty to remain in isolation and will work with them to successfully continue their isolation.
Sheriff Kendall recognized that early on in the outbreak an inmate was released without Public Health follow-up. He wanted to recognize that “screw up” and said responding to the outbreak has been an “emerging process.”
Sheriff Kendall said the outbreak has led to changes in inmate housing, splitting the population into three tiers: green, yellow, and red. The “green tier” is for inmates who have not tested positive for COVID-19, the yellow tier is in active quarantine, and the red tier is relegated to those inmates who are COVID-19 positive inmates.
To monitor the spread of COVID-19 in the facility, Sheriff Kendall said staff has come to rely on BiNaxnow testing, a form of viral testing that takes approximately 15 minutes to yield a result. Sheriff Kendall said responding to the outbreak effectively was not possible when it took 3-7 days to get test results saying, “you cannot work effectively with old information.”
Hearing concerns that BiNaxnow testing can be unreliable, Sheriff Kendall had a batch of samples/results garnered from BiNaxnow testing ran through the PCR testing at a local hospital and found the BiNaxnow testing results were 100% accurate in that run.
Speaking to the current status of the jail outbreak, Sheriff Kendall said “we’re not out of the woods yet.” He added, “I’m not going to be happy until it’s gone.”