Updated 5:30 p.m. — This article has been updated to include a recent statement from Mendocino County officials, at end of the article as well as with additional details.
MENDOCINO Co., 4/17/20 — A fifth confirmed case of COVID-19 in Mendocino County was announced this afternoon. The infected person is a man between the ages of 19 and 35, who has recently been released early from state prison in Chino, where he had come into contact with a confirmed case of the virus on April 7. The man is reportedly asymptomatic and is now isolated at the home of a relative, but is believed to have been in the Ukiah area for the last six or seven days. The announcement was made in a video posted to social media by Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan and other county officials this afternoon (watch here).
County officials were first informed of the situation yesterday by out-of-county officials, as the man had been expected to report to his parole officer in Stanislaus County. Law enforcement in Mendocino County was informed, and Mendocino Public Health provided a COVID-19 test to get back results as soon as possible. The man’s test result was confirmed positive today.
The man, who is the county’s fifth case, and currently the only known active case of Covid-19, was recently released early from the California Institute for Men (colloquially referred to as just “Chino”) in San Bernardino County due to policies around early release due the coronavirus, and according to Mendocino County Sheriff Matthew Kendall, is “not a Ukiah resident,” but had traveled to this county instead of reporting to authorities in Stanislaus County.
Upon arriving in Mendocino County the man went to stay with an aunt at a trailer park in Ukiah. Upon finding out about this case local authorities found him, got back a positive test result and have now isolated him at a local hotel with an ankle monitor.
The man had been scheduled for parole on May 7, and initially was put into a quarantine on April 7, but was then released from prison on April 8. He is believed to have been in the Ukiah area for six or seven days as of today, and Kendall did not know how exactly he had travelled from Chino to Ukiah. Doohan stated that initial contact tracing of who the man might have come into contact with had begun on Friday, and so far looks “very reassuring,” adding that he has stayed quarantined, and is now in isolation. Officials clarified in a later statement the man had not been tested prior to his release.
In in a subsequent interview this afternoon with The Mendocino Voice, officials stated he had twice visited stores in Ukiah would not provide additional details.
As of the most recent numbers available, Mendocino County had conducted 492 tests, with four confirmed cases that are considered recovered, and this most recent case as the only active case, and 14 tests pending. Doohan praised the coordination of the local agencies and community clinic staff for acting quickly and in cooperation once they became aware someone with a known contact needed testing. Doohan added that a press release was expected “within two hours” during the 3 p.m. video announcement.
During epidemics prisons and jails can act as reservoirs and vectors of disease. As such, many countries have done large releases of prisoners during this pandemic, and so following the advice of epidemiologists, Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered some prisoners to be released early and other changes to the prison system during the pandemic including reducing new intakes. Still, the number of reported cases of the virus among prisoners continues to increase. The state and civil rights advocates have recently been fighting in court over the possibility of additional inmate releases.
Kendall said he had “some extreme concerns” about the way the situation had unfolded and the state’s system of early release had been implemented. He said he had been informed of the situation by the Stanislaus County sheriff yesterday afternoon, on April 16, who told him a prisoner had been released from Chino and had been ordered to check in with a parole officer in Stanislaus County, but had instead traveled to Ukiah and called authorities from there.
Kendall stated that he subsequently learned that staff at Chino had sent a memo to Stanislaus County officials on April 9, warning that the inmate had known contact with a person infected with COVID-19, and had been placed on a quarantine on April 7 — a status that should have lasted until April 21.
Instead, the man was instead released the next day, on April 8. Kendall said that after getting the news he immediately notified Ukiah Chief of Police Justin Wyatt and Dr. Doohan in order to secure a test quickly, and positive results were confirmed today. The man has been asymptomatic and remains in quarantine.
Kendall especially expressed concern that only Stanislaus County, and not Mendocino County officials, had been notified of the potential contact with a confirmed case, saying in the video, “Turning people loose at the door and saying go about your way is like throwing sparks into dry grass.”
Although the man may have ultimately arrived in Mendocino County, local officials stated they hoped some of the problems with this situation would inform the process statewide moving forward, and Kendall said he had shared concerns with Ralph Diaz, California Secretary of State Prisons.
“My concern is how many times has it occurred? We know of one issue here at this point, however, what does the rest of the state look like right now?” said Kendall.
Wyatt expressed similar concerns about the process and timing of the inmate’s release, and commended the other agencies within the county for acting in coordination quickly. He added that local officials had made numerous inquiries on a state level as what went wrong.
Here is press release issued by Mendocino County shortly after 5 p.m. today:
Health Officer Confirms Fifth Case of COVID-19
Post Date: 04/17/2020 5:09 PM
Ukiah, California: 4/17/2020
Health Officer Confirms Fifth Case of COVID-19
The Mendocino County Health Officer, Dr. Noemi Doohan has confirmed a fifth case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Mendocino County. Like the previous four cases, this case is related to an exposure outside of Mendocino County and does not appear to indicate that community spread has occurred inside our County. This person was released from a state correctional facility by the California Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and was transported, untested, from that facility to Mendocino County in order to stay with a relative. The individual has not shown symptoms and was directed by CDCR to self-isolate until the COVID-19 testing was done.
Mendocino County Public Health was made aware of this persons presence in the County yesterday morning, as soon as Sheriff Kendall became aware. This person was evaluated at a local primary care clinic within hours, and Public Health transported the COVID-19 test sample to the Public Health lab in Santa Rosa promptly, resulting in a positive test result within 24 hours. The primary care clinic responded to this urgent need in an exemplary matter, and took proper precautions including using personal protective equipment, while evaluating the individual. A detailed contact investigation is underway by Public Health.
Fifth Case Details: Male between 19-34 years old, asymptomatic (meaning not showing symptoms at this time), in isolation at home with a relative, in the Ukiah Valley with active public health monitoring since yesterday.
“It can be easy to let our guard down as Sheltering-In-Place seems to drag on,” said Dr. Doohan “but this case is proof that we still need our county’s Shelter-in-Place order to protect us while we gain precious time to prepare for the threat of COVID-19 community spread arriving in the near future, like it has in Sonoma County. Sheltering-In-Place is not optional. We must continue to Shelter-In-Place, while practicing social distancing, and wear face coverings while out in public for essential activities.”
Anyone who is tested for COVID-19 MUST remain in isolation until further directed by their clinician who ordered the test under the Blanket Isolation and Quarantine orders released by Dr Doohan on April 8, 2020.
Of the five positive cases our county has had, the first four have fully recovered and are currently Sheltering-In-Place.