Solano County Jail nurse tests positive for COVID-19; up to 60 inmates to go free

In a press release, Sheriff Ferrara says no ‘known cases’ of COVID-19 in the jail so far, but a Solano County Superior Court commissioner and a spokeswoman for jail nurse contractor Wellpath confirm the positive test

By Richard Bammer, Vacaville Reporter, March 27, 2020
Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrara

Two people have reported or confirmed that a nurse working in the Solano Jail has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but Sheriff Tom Ferrara, in a press release issued Friday, noted “no known cases of persons contracting COVID-19 within our jails.”

Solano County Superior Court Commissioner Bryan J. Kim on Thursday mentioned during afternoon arraignments that a nurse from the Wellpath company, which contracts with Solano County Jail for nursing services, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Deputy Public Defender Nick Filloy told The Reporter he heard Kim make the statement during the afternoon session in Department 24 in the Hall of Justice in Fairfield.

Additionally, a spokeswoman for the Wellpath company, based in Nashville, Tenn., confirmed early Friday that the nurse had, indeed, tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

She asked not to be identified, citing the sensitive nature of her job, and provided no additional information other than suggesting the nurse was female.

At press time Friday, Ferrara and Undersheriff Brad DeWall had not responded to a request for comment from The Reporter.

It is unknown when or where the nurse tested positive, the nature of her county jail work schedule in recent days, how many inmates she came in contact with before she was tested, and whether she is quarantined for at least 14 days in her residence, a standard accepted practice recognized by public health officials.

In the prepared statement, Ferrara wrote that the Sheriff’s Office “remains committed to the health and well-being of all persons currently incarcerated or working within our correctional facilities. Currently, there are no known cases of persons contracting COVID-19 within our jails.”

He cited a March 20 order from Solano County Superior Court officials authorizing the release of inmates who are serving county jail commitments with 60 days or less remaining on their sentence, “so long as they qualify within the criteria set forth in the Order.”

However, no inmate whose crime includes serving time for domestic violence or an offense involving a victim of domestic violence or serving time for an offense that requires registration as a sex offender is eligible for early release, noted Ferrara.

“We are working in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office and the Probation Department to review and concur with each potential release,” he added in the prepared statement. “Prior to being released, we will verify that the inmate has a place to live to ensure they go to a safe environment that allows them to comply with the Shelter-at-Home directive.”

He also noted the department is making sure the released inmates have transportation to their homes.

The March 20 order “will result in the initial release of up to 60 inmates, many of which currently have less than 30 days left to serve,” Ferrara pointed out.

The release of inmates allows the Sheriff’s Office to establish intake quarantine housing units to monitor newly booked inmates and maintain a medical isolation unit for any confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, he wrote.

Solano County Deputy District Attorney Andrew Wood described to The Reporter how jail arraignments are being handled during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an email, he wrote that during such arraignments, deputy district attorneys “are teleconferencing into court and some inmates are being placed in the court adjacent room with a glass partition and microphone for court proceedings.”

The inmates, he added, “can see court proceedings and communicate with the court from this position, rather than bringing them into the courtroom.”

Known as a fierce defender of his clients’ constitutional rights, Filloy was shocked at Kim’s revelation and the later confirmation by the Wellpath spokeswoman.

“If the Solano County’s Sheriff’s Department wants to spread COVID-19 to all of Solano County, they are doing a bang-up job,” he wrote in a text message.