LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Inmates in Los Angeles County jails are deliberately attempting to infect themselves with coronavirus, L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters Monday, calling the activity "deeply disturbing" as the jail system saw a 60 percent jump in inmate cases in just one week.
Surveillance video shot on April 26 from inside the day room of a module at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic showed inmates trying to contract coronavirus by sharing bottles and masks, the sheriff disclosed.
"There was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive, there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment, and that's not gonna happen," Villanueva said.
In the video which Villanueva showed during the news conference, the inmates appear to be passing around and taking drinks from the same hot water bottle just prior to getting their temperature taken by a nurse.
"With the hot water, they were trying to falsely elevate their temperature readings to generate a symptom for COVID-19," Villanueva said.
The video also showed the inmates sharing a Styrofoam cup and breathing into a common mask, Villanueva said. Furthermore, they appear to be crowded in one area of the day room instead of practice physical distancing.
According to Villanueva, within a week of when the video was shot, 21 inmates from that Pitchess module had tested positive.
"Then all of a sudden we saw a spike, a few weeks, ago, a very noticeable jump, and we couldn't really understand why, when everything seemed to be going the way we wanted to," Villanueva said.
Villanueva said that since February, L.A. County's inmate population has been reduced from 17,000 – the largest in the nation -- to currently a little over 11,700.
"Had this pandemic swept through while we were sitting on 17,000 inmates, the results would have been catastrophic," Villanueva said.
357 inmates have now tested positive, a 60 percent jump from May 4, when there were 123 cases. 117 of those inmates who have tested positive have recovered.
All new inmates are being tested as they enter the jail system. There are 4,590 inmates currently in quarantine, which makes up about 40 percent of the jail system's total population.
"There's a reason why these people are behind bars to begin with, because they violated the norms of society," Villanueva said. "But to then imperil not only their only safety, but the safety of their fellow inmates who did not want to participate in this behavior. It also endangers all the personnel, both the professional staff and the sworn staff."
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