First Person in SF Jail Tests Positive for COVID-19

Office of the Sheriff
City and County of San Francisco 

For Immediate Release
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Contact: Nancy Crowley (415) 554-4469 or 415-238-5488


San Francisco, CA -- Sheriff Paul Miyamoto today said that a person who had been in custody 24 hours and had been isolated from the general population tested positive for COVID-19. This is the first known case among the in-custody population in San Francisco County Jail.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) has contacted the individual who had been released from jail prior to their receiving test results, as well as the employees and others who were in contact with him.

“We were prepared for this eventuality and are doing everything we can to protect the people in our custody as well as the health and safety of the greater community that we serve,” said Sheriff Miyamoto. “Sheriff’s Office staff and Jail Health Services have worked in overdrive to minimize contact among the people in our jails.”

“We’ve had a month to prepare for the probability that someone in our jails would test positive,” said Dr. Lisa Pratt, Director of Jail Health Services, a section of DPH. “This allowed us to quarantine all new bookings, enforce social distancing protocols and mask all staff. The fact that the person who tested positive was in jail for such a short period of time and that everyone was masked decreases the possibility of meaningful contact and spread.”

On Sunday, April 12, 2020, Jail Health Services expanded COVID-19 testing to include any new bookings who are subsequently housed in jail. Jail Health Services has tested 66 people since March. “We are now testing people who are booked and then housed in jail due to the high prevalence of unsheltered people coming into the jail,” said Dr. Pratt. “This is especially important in light of concerns about the health and safety of our city’s most vulnerable people.”

With one of the nation’s lowest incarceration rates, the county jail’s capacity is at an historic low with 733 people in custody today, down 35 percent from the average daily jail count in January 2020. “The Sheriff’s Office has strived to minimize exposure by collaborating with our justice partners to keep the jail count low through early releases,” said Sheriff Miyamoto.

The Sheriff’s Office is operating under a COVID-19 emergency response and action plan, which is adjusted and amended to address public health and public safety needs. Steps already taken in the jail system include:

  • Suspending county jail visits on March 13, 2020 to protect people in our custody
  • Implementing aggressive, enhanced screenings at booking through our Jail Health Services to rapidly identify and isolate any persons with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure
  • Medically isolating sick and COVID-19 positive people in separate cells and dedicated housing pods at County Jail #2, which can house up to 21 percent of our population.
  • Housing people over 60 years old in single cells in a designated area.
  • Isolating newly arrested people in County Jail #2 to minimize contact with incarcerated people at County Jails #4 and #5.
  • Expediting early releases through the courts and working with our community partners to identify housing for people who are homeless.
  • Maintaining social distancing among the people in custody by reducing the jail count.
  • Cleaning and sanitization of jail cells and common areas multiple times per day.
  • Screening all employees with temperature checks and questionnaires prior to allowing them to enter work facilities.

During March 2020, the Sheriff’s Office reported five positive cases of COVID-19 among staff, including two deputies at County Jail #4. No other staff have tested positive thus far.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department serves the people of San Francisco by administering the county jails, providing security for the Superior Court and other high-profile public buildings, and performing civil court orders. Led by elected Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, the Sheriff’s Department employs more than 850 sworn staff and almost 200 non-sworn employees.

Jail Health Services is a section of the San Francisco Health Network of the Department of Public Health that is dedicated to the health care of incarcerated adults in San Francisco. Jail Health Services employs 162 nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, behavioral health clinicians, dentists and support staff.