The Handling of COVID in Yuba County Jail - and its Consequences

by Javier Vazquez, currently detained at Yuba County Jail

This letter is to help bring to light some of the hardships and stressful situations immigrants who are currently in custody are experiencing in Yuba County’s ICE facility. For your information, the way the jail (both medical and jail staff) is handling the recent Covid outbreak here in Yuba County is frightening. I am writing about what I have personally seen and heard and discussed and lived here inside of Yuba County Jail (YCJ).

Lack of Concern About the Health Of lmmigrants Who Are Detained. The medical staff here is very loose about clearing immigrants who are detained before re-housing them, that is, before moving them to a different housing unit within the facility. On January 5, [name withheld] was moved into C-pod after being moved throughout the jail. He told me that he had been moved from A-pod (Medical/AdSeg housing unit) to Q-tank (in the old jail side) and then to a booking cell in R&R. He also mentioned he had been moved like this several times over the course of several days. And after being "cleared" by medical he was re-housed in C-pod (the only ICE GP housing dorm in YCJ.) However, he tested positive for Covid just 2 days after being moved to C-pod. He was then moved into a cell in medical.

On January 9, at my hearing over a grievance submitted by C-pod over this very issue, Sgt. [name withheld] told me that he had heard "someone with flu-like symptoms was moved into C-pod." That would have had to have been [name withheld] since no one else has been brought into C-pod for weeks. So it seems that medical "cleared" him to be placed in C-pod knowing he had flu-like symptoms, putting in jeopardy (exposure to death, loss, or injury) all who are in C-pod. This is clearly a lack of concern on the part of medical and other supervisors who would have to coordinate together to approve a move and decide on where to house a person in the jail. Mind you, per court order, no immigrant in custody is to be housed in the old jail during this infectious outbreak such as in the case of [name withheld] being in Q-tank. According to him, he was placed in Q-tank (old jail) because they didn't know what to do with him at the time. Again, by putting him in Q-tank, even if he was by himself, shows that there is no genuine concern for the health of immigrants nor are they serious about protocol here in Yuba. We are in the "care of” these people and it is clear that they care very little, if they care at all, for our health and wellbeing. lt is beyond their capacity to provide adequate and timely medical attention to those who are held in YCJ-ICE.

Poor Judgement in Medical and Classification Decisions. At the beginning of the outbreak in Yuba county there was an attempt to remove the higher risk population (such as those who are diabetic, have high blood pressure, heart conditions, and/or other ailments) from open housing units and placing them in A-pod (Medical/AdSeg/Cell housing unit) to lower the risk of them contacting Covid since they have pre-existing health conditions. One of these individuals is [name withheld]. Initially, he was moved from L-tank to C-pod where he remained for several weeks and was fine, without any signs of Covid symptoms, when he arrived. Even before we were told that an outbreak had occurred in the facility [name withheld] was suddenly moved to A-pod to be housed in a cell by himself for his "safety.” But in the very same pod that Yuba medical and jail staff housed the more "vulnerable" population was exactly where they contracted covid. They housed those with high-risk health conditions in the same pod as those who were quarantined for having flu-like/Covid symptoms! [Name withheld] has been moved out of YCJ and is at another facility being treated. He is the only immigrant who is being held there. The rest are county inmates.

This other facility is something like an old unused juvenile hall. Nothing more has been heard about him.

Evidence of Carelessness Thoughout the Facility. While I was waiting in medical for the results of a Covid-rapid test, I overheard the medical staff in the office talking about a disturbing situation. In that same instant it was discovered that a Covid-postitve inmate (for the sake of her privacy I will refer to her a "M.J") was housed with other Covid-negative females. Talking about the nurse or the officer who had apparently left M.J in a Covid-free tank they (those in the office) said something along the lines of "someone needs to tell her that she is not supposed to do that." Furthermore, I saw no immediate attempt to escalate this to a supervisor. I can't be making this up. How would I know that M.J is in Yuba custody and is Covid-positive? In fact, at the grievance hearing with Lt. [name withheld] regarding the same issue I discussed with Sgt. [name withheld] l escalated the matter to a higher authority. The Lt. confirmed that she knew about the situation regarding M.J when I told with her that I thought medical and/or jail staff were making mistakes in the handling of Covid potential/positive cases.

An Undetected Past Covid Outbreak in Earlv 2020? Roughly in February/March of 2020 I was housed in B-pod. Back then, B-pod was an ICE and county population mix. At that time everyone with the exception of a few people got sick, some more than others. Some were too sick to get up from there bunks to shower or even eat. Many had a fever and chills and body aches. Some weren't able to keep their food down. [Name withheld], who was in the custody of lCE, suddenly fainted and hit his head against a metal bunk. At the time there was a sign posted out in booking or in medical (I can't remember where exactly) that read, "Please ask for a mask if you need one." This sign was up even before the pandemic officially hit the U.S because I remember reading it when I was brought to Yuba ICE in December 2019. During the time everyone was sick and we all asked for masks referring to the sign that said to ask for one if needed, but we were never allowed to get them. After arguing with medical and jail staff we were told that the sign was "only meant for medical staff." And "maybe for those who were extremely sick." But even those who were the sickest in B-pod were not allowed to have masks. And when l wanted to file a grievance about this situation I was told by the floor officer that "it's not grievable." I was even denied a grievance form.

Today, in C-pod, I mentioned how sick we got back in February/March while in B-pod, and those who were in C-pod back during the same months said that they too all got extremely sick with similar symptoms like a very bad case of the flu.

lgnoring Our Pleas and Suggestions During the Pandemic. How far must we go to get the attention of those who are in charge of the facility when we want to be heard? In the past year or so we have peacefully protested by going on several hunger strikes. Their reaction: storming the pods and putting all edible items into our inmate property until the hunger strikes ended. In one particular case the inmates in a higher security housing unit resisted and were tased, pepper sprayed, and handcuffed. Eventually, after these hunger strikes a sergeant (l don't remember which one, but it might have been Sgt. [name withheld) accepted a letter that we had turned in with a list of certain demands we wanted to have considered and granted. This sergeant said that if ever there was anything else we wanted to make known to the brass of the facility we would just need to write a letter addressed to the lieutenant or captain. There was no need to go on another hunger strike.

On December 24, 2020 C-pod sent a letter of demands to Cap. [name withheld] and as of today (January 18, 2021) we have not heard from anyone about our letter. I have sent 2 reminders to him (inmate request slips) asking him to please give us an answer. The first one was made out to the captain and/or the lieutenant. The second was addressed directly to the captain. I mentioned that we are hoping to hear from him without having to do something as drastic as going on another hunger strike. All our "demands" are related to the treatment and prevention of Covid in this facility. We have yet to hear from anyone about our letter.

Extreme Stress and Psychological Torture. lmmigrants held in Yuba county are mentally and emotionally drained from the worry and uncertainty of this pandemic, We feel like we have been sentenced to die from Covid or from the overwhelming dread of anxiety. Those of us who have been through traumatic events in our lives and suffer from PTSD, such as myself, have very little support for our migraine headaches, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, or other PTSD/psychological hardships I suffer from. I stopped taking my psych meds because they were beginning to give me Restless Leg Syndrome at night. And because I have stopped taking them, I am having nightmares several times per night again. People are also scared to report that they aren't feeling well, whether it be flu-like symptoms or not, because medical will instantly have them placed under quarantine. There they are only allowed to be out 2 hours a day from the med-cell to shower and use the phone. There is absolutely nothing to do in that bathroom-sized, single-man cell. No radio. No TV. These cells are in a dead-end hall way so they are isolated. This too is mental torture, knowing what awaits us if we were to report that we are feeling the slightest bit ill.

Surely, this can't be good for our mental and physical health. And it surely leads to an empty feeling of hopelessness and despair where it just might seem better to give up fighting our immigration cases and signing our deportation order.

The concerns we have here are not so much as whether "new" immigrants picked up by ICE are or will be brought into YCJ which might potentially have Covid (such as Sgt. [name withheld] statement to counter C-pod's concerns), but that the entire infrastructure to isolate and prevent the spreading of Covid is severely flawed (which Lt. [name withheld] defended in his narrative response to C-pod's grievance). However, for us in YCJ-ICE the aftermath is much more than just physical hardship. lt's not fair that we are disproportionately held in custody while our cases are pending. But what’s even worse, it is inhumane that we are kept confined for the duration of this pandemic like people who are condemned to suffer in extreme mental stress and agony as if we were POWs, in the hands of individuals who know that they aren't taking the responsibility of caring for us seriously.

This is what we live through day and night. There is no break for us. We can't leave and take a few days off from the stress. This is a real-life, full-time nightmare. And we are literally living it with every breath we breathe. The government knows about this and allows this inhumane form of torture! Sometimes it seems like we are seeking protection in a government that is not far from the ways of the country we are seeking protection from, in this respect.