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Dozens of inmates test positive for virus at San Diego federal jail, defense attorneys say

Petco Park anchors downtown San Diego.
Downtown San Diego. (K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

At least 56 inmates tested positive for the coronavirus last week at a privately run federal jail in downtown San Diego that houses mostly pretrial inmates, according to defense attorneys briefed on the matter.

The GEO Group, which contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service to operate the Western Region Detention Facility, is in the process of testing all inmates there “whether or not they are showing any symptoms,” according to Kathy Nester, executive director of Federal Defenders of San Diego.

“Today we received confirmation of a large number of positive tests arising from that ongoing testing,” Nester wrote in an email Friday.

She said 286 inmates were tested Thursday, and of those, 56 tests came back positive, 114 were negative and 116 were pending.

Another 221 tests were submitted Friday, with all of those results still pending, according to Nester.

She said information about the apparent coronavirus outbreak was provided in a Friday phone call with the Marshals Service, which gives Federal Defenders regular updates “advising us of our clients who have tested positive and when there are ongoing quarantines” at its facilities.

“We are extremely worried about the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading through our detention facilities and the impact that will have on our clients and the community at large,” Nester wrote.

A spokesperson for the GEO Group referred a request for comment to the marshals. Calls to the San Diego-area office of the marshals were not answered Friday.

According to the GEO Group, the Western Region Detention Facility can house up to 770 inmates and is accredited by two national correctional organizations.

In April, Voice of San Diego reported that inmates at the facility reported cramped conditions at the jail that did not allow for social distancing. According to the declaration cited in the report, written by Federal Defenders senior litigator Joshua Jones and signed March 31, inmates at the facility reported several other safety concerns, including a lack of hand sanitizer in housing units and a scarcity of soap.

A study published last month in the Annals of Epidemiology found that “jails are epicenters of COVID-19 transmission in the United States.”

The study’s authors wrote that jails “present an ideal setting for infections to spread” because “incarcerated individuals are at higher risk for infection due to unsanitary living conditions and inability to socially distance.” Additionally, the authors wrote that “correctional officers rarely have public health training, and correctional health systems are chronically underfunded.”

Two of the study’s authors, from Stanford University, said an outbreak inside a jail threatens the community outside because “the people who work there enter and leave every day. They can take the virus out into the community when they go home at night.”

The apparent outbreak at the Western Region Detention Facility follows an outbreak at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, another federal jail in downtown San Diego.

As of Friday, there were three confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates at

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health

Outbreak infects 33 inmates at Alaska prison

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — State officials say an outbreak of coronavirus has infected 33 inmates at a prison in Fairbanks, causing the facility to go into quarantine for 14 days. The Alaska Department of Corrections says 32 of the cases at the Fairbanks Correctional Center are men and one is a woman. All of those infected were housed in the general population. Other inmates are being tested for coronavirus, with results expected by Monday. The inmates with coronavirus are being isolated in a separate unit of the prison. The facility serves northern Alaska and has male and female inmates, some of whom are serving sentences and others of whom are awaiting trial.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:


— President Donald Trump is showing new determination to minimize the threat of the virus that has killed more than 215,000 Americans and complicated his chances of re-election.

— Police say a man upset with a mask mandate threatened the mayor of Wichita, Kan.

— Britain’s Space Agency is backing a medical drone delivery service that aims to move virus samples, test kits and protective equipment between hospitals.

— A spike in cases in Europe deals a bitter blow to the economy.

— Rural parts of the American Midwest are seeing a surge in cases and hospitals are struggling to keep up.

— In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of “difficult months” ahead as the nation posted another daily record of new cases Saturday.

— Iran announces its virus death toll has reached 30,000.

— The Dutch royal couple has cut short a Greek vacation after an uproar back home.

— AP PHOTOS: India holds digital fashion week amid pandemic.

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— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

Pennsylvania is reporting 1,857 new COVID-19 cases, the second-highest daily total since the beginning of pandemic, days after officials said the commonwealth was seeing a “fall resurgence” of the coronavirus.

The numbers announced Saturday by the state health department are exceeded only by the 1,989 cases reported April 9 and bring the statewide total to almost 181,000. Nine new deaths were reported, bringing the total number of deaths associated with the virus to 8,466.

On Wednesday, the state’s health secretary pronounced Pennsylvania “at the start of the fall resurgence” of COVID-19 but said there were no plans to reimpose a stay-at-home order or shut down businesses again in response.

Dr. Rachel Levine said Pennsylvania is more prepared for such an influx than it was in the spring, citing a contact tracing program in place, more personal protective equipment supplies and enough hospital beds available.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The number of

hospitalizations due to the coronavirus remained near a record high in Oklahoma on Saturday while the number of reported cases increased by 1,195 and deaths rose by 14.

Some 792 people were hospitalized, the state Department of Health said Saturday, one fewer than the one-day record of 793 reported Friday. There are

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