Recently Released Prisoner in Quarantine Walks Away

Had Completed Sentence and Was Housed off Prison Grounds

Assistant County CEO Barney Melekian, pictured here in 2019, described at Friday's press conference how a COVID-positive, recently released Lompoc prisoner walked away from quarantine. | Credit: Paul Wellman File

Two prisoners at Lompoc penitentiary completed their sentences on Wednesday, but because they tested positive for COVID-19, they still had to complete a two-week quarantine. They only had two days left and were housed off prison grounds, but one decided to head for Los Angeles County, the county’s assistant CEO Barney Melekian told reporters at Friday’s tri-weekly pandemic press conference.

Melekian said the federal prison remained the biggest challenge for the county, and in this instance, the prison had no recourse but to release the men, who’d served their time. Los Angeles County’s public health department was contacted about the patient, who showed no symptoms of the virus. “We are working to address further releases with more advance notice,” Melekian concluded.

Congregate living situations like the prison also include settings like senior-care homes. Of the 14 skilled nursing facilities in the county, said county health’s Paige Batson, two had incidents. These involved two to five staff members or residents, she said, and one person had died.

She added that for the larger community that might be infectious, if they could not self-isolate at home, the county was providing housing. Nine people were currently in such quarters.

Supervisor Gregg Hart, who as chair of the Board of Supervisors moderates the meetups, announced the completion of the RISE Guide. Available at the county website here, the guide to reopening the county intends to work in conjunction with Governor Newsom’s criteria. It posits somewhat different ones, depending on the state’s acquiescence, such as fewer than 10 percent of tests being positive and a less than 2 percent fatality rate over 14 days. The state criteria calls for four positive cases daily and no deaths, both for a period of two weeks.

The document will be discussed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Hart said, noting it is subject to change as circumstances evolve. It’s in draft form and awaits public comment at the portal here.

Before describing the day’s number of new cases — 15 new patients, five of them from the Lompoc prison — Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, who leads County Public Health, reminded of the critical point the county is in. “It’s exciting to see local businesses open again,” she said, “but it’s imperative to remember that the trend can only continue if new cases remain low and hospitalizations stable.” She advised staying home and wearing a face covering when interacting with others or when you cannot have distance. “Postpone visits with people who don’t live in your home,” she said. “We need your help in making the next phase a reality.”

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