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SF sheriff grapples with rising Covid cases among inmates

With San Francisco’s jails nearing capacity, sheriff officials are struggling to get a handle on rising Covid cases among inmates and a flu outbreak behind bars.

Internal Sheriff’s Office emails obtained by The Standard show that one jail facility alone, County Jail No. 2 located in South of Market, reported 88 inmates in quarantine Thursday as well as 47 people in isolation and 12 positive Covid cases. The jail currently has 263 inmates. The facility is also experiencing an outbreak of the flu. 

As the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads, San Francisco’s jails went from just three confirmed cases Nov. 21 to a peak of 25 exactly a month later on Dec. 21, according to Sheriff’s Office data. As of Thursday, there are currently 15 positive Covid cases and 147 inmates in isolation across the San Francisco jail system.

The issue of rising illness among inmates is being compounded by more people being held in custody and the department having less space to house inmates since the Hall of Justice jail closed in late 2020. On top of this, the city is in the midst of flu season.

“We are doing our best to contain it,” said sheriff spokesperson Christian Kropff.

Sheriff’s Office data shows the number of inmates held in custody reached a peak of 910 on Monday — marking the first time that the jails had housed more than 900 inmates since the pandemic began in March 2020. San Francisco only has enough beds to house 1,506 inmates even without implementing social distancing, according to the data.

As of Thursday, the jail count had gone back down to 864.

San Francisco closed County Jail No. 4, the seismically unsafe jail on the top floor of its aging criminal courthouse, in September 2020 over long-standing concerns about inmate safety and calls for the city to reduce its reliance on incarceration.

Sheriff’s deputies are being reminded to wear masks and get a flu shot, while high-risk inmates are being given Tamiflu, according to the internal Sheriff's Office emails.

Michael Barba can be reached at