SALINAS, Calif. (KION) UPDATED: 07/13/2020 72 inmates and two staff member inside the Monterey County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19. All inmates and staff will be tested and more results are pending.
On July 6, an inmate was tested prior to an unrelated medical procedure. Although the inmate did not have symptoms, they tested positive. Six more inmates living in the same housing area then tested positive. Following those results, 89 inmates were tested who lived in the same housing unit. 61 of those tests came back positive. Over the weekend, 115 more inmates were tested for COVID-19.
“We don’t know who patient zero is. We’re working to find out how it got in,” Deputy Chief John Thornburg said.
Since March, every inmate booked is quarantined for 14 days before entering general population. Several families who’s loved ones tested positive say the jail was negligent in its response and plan on suing the jail.
The families said jail staff ignored inmates who were feeling ill and were concerned they had COVID-19.
“The way they’re being quarantined not being about to social distance them. It's not safe. They’re making us social distance out here, but they can’t do it in there,” Melinda Estaban Cortez who's fiance is in jail said.
One of the 72 inmates to test positive is John Fickas, according to his family. The Salinas coach and political consultant has been in county jail since last summer on charges of rape. His mother said he was one of the first to test positive.
“I suspect one of the guards brought it in, because they are the ones who have close contact with the inmates,” Rosemary Fickas said.
In response to the outbreak, the jail has now opened a new cell block that can hold 72 inmates. Thornburg says it will be used for new inmates.
“We’re working with county health to test everybody when they come into custody so prior to leaving the expansion cells and going into general population they’ll be tested,” Thornburg said.
“They should send people home [with] ankle bracelet. I think that would be better. They can monitor them in there. It's like jail,” Cortez said.
As of Monday, 34 inmates had been released due to the outbreak in an attempt to lower the jail population.
Only inmates who aren't facing felony convictions or non-violent crimes can be released. Thornburg said more could be released following the same rules as the states prior zero bail rule earlier in the pandemic for most non-violent charges.