Pretty much since day 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said his office has done everything it can to protect the safety of inmates and staff.
Boudreaux addressed the issue at a press conference on Thursday as the Bob Wiley Detention Facility has had an outbreak of 78 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19. It's believed the outbreak has been caused by one inmate who when he appeared in court said he wasn't feeling well.
He was immediately tested and he tested positive for COVID-19. Since then 78 inmates have tested positive for the virus. “We truly believe COVID has come from the courts into our jail facilities,” Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux said “it was our priority” to protect the safety of inmates and staff since the beginning of the pandemic. He added his department has followed all recommended protocols which at times has changed on a daily basis on the state and federal level.
But as of Thursday the department has implemented stricter protocols Boudreaux said. Staff which have been tested once a week will now be tested twice a week, at the beginning and end of each week.
Boudreaux also said as of Thursday he's implemented a lockdown at all sheriff's facilities in which contact visitations won't be allowed. He added in March, 2020 when the pandemic he implemented a 30-day suspension of all contact visititations.
Tulare County Health and Human Services Tim Lutz, who also spoke at Thursday's press conference, said there are a total of 86 positive tests for COVID-19 among inmates at Bob Wiley Facility. Boudreaux said of the 78 inmates who have tested positive since the one inmate who appeared in court tested positive all 78 in quarantine are asymptomatic.
Of the inmates who have tested positive, Lutz said 17 were fully vaccinated. He said none of the fully vaccinated had to be hospitalized and only one showed any kind of symptoms, showing flu-like symptoms.
Boudreaux said one inmate who tested positive did have to be hospitalized, adding the inmate was diagnosed with pneumonia. But he added as of Thursday the condition of the inmate was improving.
Boudreaux said his department has formed a COVID administrative team to deal with the issue of COVID within the department. He added a state strike team would be coming to the department to help it deal with its issue of COVID and the team will provide antibodies that could be used to treat those with COVID if needed.
Lutz said 1,281 inmates at county jails have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, 488 have been fully vaccinated and eight have received a third booster shot. Boudreaux said a number of inmates were released after receiving their first shot and it was obviously their responsibility to get a second shot to be fully vaccinated.
It's voluntary for inmates and staff to be vaccinated in the sheriff's department. Boudreaux said 50 percent of the department's staff was vaccinated.
He added he hoped all 78 inmates now in quarantine would test negative after a 14-day period and would then be able to return to the general population. He noted the department's quarantine policy of 14 days is stricter than the Centers For Disease Control's recommendation of 10 days. He added Thursday was day 12 of the 78 inmates' quarantine period.
Boudreaux talked about the steps the department has taken since the pandemic began, including testing 114 inmates in June, 2020 in which 13 inmates tested positive.
He said the department basically has three places for inmates who test positive: Isolation, quarantine and observation. Boudreaux said all inmates who come to a county facility are tested and if they test positive for COVID they're immediately placed in isolation.
They're then tested seven days later and if they test negative they're placed in quarantine. If they test negative after 14 days they can go to the general population. He said no inmates who test positive are allowed in the general population.
He added the department has a policy of keeping six feet of social distance, but admitted that's always possible. He added the department also has a policy calling for staff and inmates to wear facemasks and shields.