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Sheriff: Inmates tried to infect themselves with COVID-19 with hopes of release

Sheriff: Inmates tried to infect themselves with COVID-19 with hopes of release
Posted at 8:36 AM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 11:36:01-04

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Los Angeles County sheriff says inmates at a jail tried to infect themselves with the coronavirus by sharing a container of water and a mask.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva showed surveillance videos on Monday from two units at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic.

The footage captured inmates in one unit sharing water and others in a second unit sniffing a mask.

The sheriff’s office says the men drank the water and sniffed the mask for two reasons: "To falsely elevate their oral temperature moments before having their temperature taken by a nurse, and to spread the potential of infection."

As a direct result of the behavior seen in the video, authorities say 21 men tested positive for COVID-19 within a week.

"It's sad to think that someone would deliberately expose themselves to COVID-19,” said Villanueva. “As a result of this behavior from this particular module, 21 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 within a week of these videos being taken."

Villanueva said the inmates mistakenly believed that they would be freed if they were infected.

“A gross misunderstanding among the inmate population led many to believe that those diagnosed with COVID-19 may be released, which is untrue,” said Villanueva.

The sheriff’s office says it’s doing everything possible to protect inmates from COVID-19, including modifying bail and booking amounts, reducing its inmate population by more than 5,000, ordering COVID-19 screening at booking areas, educating staff and inmates about the dangers of the illness and preventative measures, implementing isolation measures, making PPE available to everyone, and enacting a procedure for the testing of all inmates entering the jail.

Since the procedure was started on May 3, officials say 682 new inmates have been tested and 16 of those were positive for the virus.