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Fresno County correctional officers concerned for their health as outbreak worsens at the jail

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FRESNO, California (KSEE) – The coronavirus outbreak at the Fresno County Jail is on the rise. On Monday, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office confirmed 507 inmates and 25 correctional officers along with one sheriff’s deputy who works in the court-tested positive for COVID-19. 

The outbreak was first discovered a little over a week ago when 13 inmates tested positive upon their arrival to Wasco State Prison. Since June 19th, 1,200 inmates in the North Jail have been quarantined and tested. The results are still pending for 186 tests as of Monday. 

The 507 positive tests are about half the population of the North Jail and about 25% of the population of the entire jail facility. 

“I’ve worked here at the jail 29 years and never seen this level, with the pandemic and the illnesses that are occurring within these jails,” said Correctional Officer Eulalio Gomez. 

Gomez is also the president of the union representing correctional officers, the Fresno County Public Safety Association. He says the outbreak at the jail is taking a toll on the officer who already work long hours in a high-stress environment. 

“These correction officers took on the job with risk. They recognize it, they accept it. But at the same time they’re concerned about their health, and also their families at the end of the day, going home to those families,” said Gomez.

Gomez says the county is providing them with free testing and personal protective equipment but it only goes so far when social distancing isn’t an option. Many of the union members now are wanting additional “congregate setting pay” for working in the jail during the outbreak. 

“These employees are the only county employees that have to work in this setting. The correctional officers, the sheriff correctional officers, in the juvenile correctional officers… So I think it’s important to talk about that with our employer. And given the fiscal constraints, I understand that, but it still needs to take place,” said Gomez.

Tony Botti with the Fresno County Sheriff’s office says all inmates recieve two cloth masks which get sanitized twice daily and laundered regularly, as well as their own bar of soap.

“We are just doing the best we can right now given the situation, arming our folks with the best information possible so we can weather this storm and get through it as healthy as possible,” said Botti. 

He says right now, many of the 507 inmates infected aren’t showing symptoms and their positive results won’t mean they will be released. 

“We are talking about accused and sentenced criminals here so we can’t just let them out, but at the same time, some people will end their sentence or post bail and be able to get out and we can’t hold those people so even if they were in quarantine it’s going to be there responsibility to continue that wherever they may go on to go,” said Botti.  

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