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California

More inmates, jailers testing positive as coronavirus spreads in Southland

David Werksman
David Werksman is one of two Riverside County sheriff’s deputies who have died of COVID-19.
(Riverside County Sheriff’s Department)

The coronavirus continues to move through the ranks of law enforcement in Southern California as officers and jail inmates struggle to maintain social distancing.

Nowhere is that more profoundly apparent than in Riverside County, where at least 80 inmates and 55 employees — most of whom are deputies — have tested positive for COVID-19. Two veteran deputies in the department have died from the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In 10 days, the number of deputies infected has more than doubled, while the number of inmates who have tested positive has multiplied by more than six, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said.

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Bianco thinks the large numbers are the result of “silent spreaders,” those who are infected with the virus who show no symptoms and unwittingly spread the illness.

“Any of us can get it,” he said. “I wish there was a medical study, if you will, of what happened to our agency and how fast it spread,” he said over the weekend in a radio broadcast. “It showed us this is not what we prepared for.”

When deputies David Werksman, 51, and Terrell Young, 52, died April 2 of complications from COVID-19, it quickly emerged that Young was among two dozen deputies infected while working in the close confines of the jails.

Bianco, who opposed a zero bail move statewide, has opposed releasing jail inmates early; but like every jailer in the state, his department is taking care of inmates’ medical needs, he said.

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Bluntly speaking after Young’s death and a large number of jail inmates had tested positive for the virus, Bianco warned: “If you don’t want to contract [the coronavirus], don’t break the law. You can’t get any more plain than that.”

Of the 80 inmates who have contracted COVID-19, 16 have recovered. Three of the 55 Sheriff’s Department employees exposed to the virus have returned to work.

In Los Angeles, the LAPD has reported 54 workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus, including five members of the command staff. Two employees remain hospitalized, while 13 have returned to work after making a recovery.

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Temperatures of staff members are now checked as shifts begin, and thousands of officers are working 12-hour shifts while wearing protective masks.

Assistan Chief Horace Frank said that while social distancing is helping helping stop the spread of the illness, the mandate isn’t always an option for officers when dealing with those needing help or in the pursuit of a suspect.

The number of L.A. County Probation Department employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus has jumped to 16, including six employees who are assigned to juvenile facilities, officials said Monday.

Interim Probation Chief Ray Leyva confirmed that while no youths have fallen ill, the number of employees who have contracted the virus has jumped significantly, up from just three on Friday.

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At least eight juveniles have been tested for the virus after displaying symptoms, according to a spokeswoman for the county department of health services. But none has tested positive for COVID-19.

Among the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, 29 employees have tested positive and more than 376 staff members have been quarantined. Many have already returned to work, according to numbers last updated Friday.

Six inmates in county jails have contracted coronavirus, and 19 others are in isolation with COVID-19 symptoms. More than 400 inmates are under quarantine because of contact with someone who is infected, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Orange County, by contrast, has seen far fewer cases. So far, only 13 inmates and three sheriff’s employees — all of whom work in the jail system — have tested positive for the virus.

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In San Bernardino County, at least nine sheriff’s employees — seven of them deputies — and one inmate have contracted coronavirus. The latest deputy, who tested positive Saturday, worked in the jails, officials said.

At the California Institute for Men in Chino, at the southern edge of San Bernardino County, 21 employees and 38 inmates have become infected. It is the worst coronavirus outbreak in the state’s correctional system. In a court hearing on the treatment of state corrections inmates, medical staff said the outbreak is connected to the broader community.

Inmates isolated at the Rancho Cucamonga West Valley Detention Center are displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

The numbers among Southern California law enforcement are a sliver compared with those in New York, where 23 NYPD employees have died of COVID-19. Some 2,713 uniformed employees and 471 civilians have tested positive, and 18% of the workforce called in sick on Saturday.

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Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.


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