It started with a single inmate at Monterey County Jail who tested positive on Monday for Covid-19. Then one became three and three became six.
Now, as of Friday, July 10, 66 inmates in a single housing unit—the B dorm—and one deputy have tested positive for the virus, and the county Health Department is moving to test upwards of 700 inmates and 200 staff members, starting today, to determine how widespread the outbreak is.
"As the week went on and we started testing more, we had six cases in the same housing unit," Sheriffs Capt. John Thornburg says. "Then we tested the same housing unit Wednesday night into Thursday morning and we have 61 (new) cases positive out of a total 67 in custody from that unit."
While several of the inmates have shown symptoms of the virus, most are asymptomatic, Thornburg says. So far, no inmate has been hospitalized and those with symptoms are being treated at the jail.
"We've been working very closely with the health department and we will be testing everyone, inmates and staff alike, as well as anyone who has come into the jail," Thornburg says. "We're moving as quickly as we can and the health department is working on it right now."
At the start of today's media call with County Administrative Officer Charles McKee, McKee said the county's numbers are continuing to rise and hospitals are feeling the pressure.
"We can probably manage a lot of things but what is really concerning is if we get too much pressure on hospitals," McKee says. "They county is paying closer attention to skilled nursing (facilities), prison and jail."
An email began circulating among Monterey County defense attorneys on July 10 discussing the outbreak and measures being taken to prevent it from spreading further. According to the email, a copy of which was sent to the Weekly, the Public Defender's Office is submitting a formal request to Monterey County Superior Court Judge Julie Culver, the presiding judge, "to authorize the immediate release of high-risk inmates to Covid-19 who have 180 days or less to serve on their sentences," according to Public Defender Sue Chapman.
The jail has submitted to the court a list of high-risk inmates they would like released and, according to this email, the court is reviewing the request.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will not be transporting any prisoners to jail or the court for at least 30 days.
One defense attorney says a number of defense attorneys are concerned that the measures being taken at the courthouse don't go far enough to protect staff, jurors, inmates or the public.
"The courts have been trying to protect people but there is significant concern with the reopening of courtrooms and exposing litigants, staff, witnesses and the general public," says defense attorney William Pernik. "The controls are better than what we had before, but they're still not sufficient.
"Yes, they're checking temperatures at the entrance, but there's no coherent policy on the requirement to wear masks in the courtroom," Pernik says. "It's a sensitive topic. Courts are reopening for jury trials, which I think is dangerous and risky. How are they going to make sure they're not bringing infected people into the courthouse and how are they going to make sure bailiffs aren't taking infection back home to their families?"
One woman, whose fiance is currently in custody at Monterey County Jail, says the jail isn't doing enough to maintain social distancing among inmates, and that new inmates are being placed directly into housing units instead of being placed in isolation for two weeks when they enter the jail.
"He has asthma and heart problems and nobody is standing up for these people," she says. "We will keep speaking out so we could be heard."