Quarantine shrinking, inmates coming to court despite mumps in jail

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The mumps quarantine at the Fresno County jail is slowly shrinking, but attorneys claim the county's response reveals how poorly it would handle a more serious illness.

"They did it wrong," said defense attorney Eric Schweitzer. "They're doing it wrong. They're continuing to do it wrong."

The sheriff's office told Action News the quarantine is still in effect, but we've learned they've let about 200 people out of quarantine.

Former Fresno Unified bus driver Jeffrey Sipes isn't one of them.

He should've gone on trial at the end of January, but he hasn't attended his last three court dates even though he's been in jail the whole time.

"We've had a lot of interruptions based upon this quarantine that has been imposed for no good reason," said Schweitzer, who represents Sipes.

The jail keeps Sipes in a pod where a mumps outbreak was suspected a couple weeks ago.

He finally came to court Monday, but a judge wouldn't let us record video of his appearance.

A sheriff's deputy wearing a protective white face mask and blue rubber gloves wheeled him into court wearing a face mask and rubber gloves of his own. Deputies wouldn't let him have water because he's not allowed to remove the mask.

Sipes' attorney has argued the courts would violate his right to a speedy trial if they didn't get his trial going by Tuesday.

He got a report from a Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist, Dr. Remington Nevin, saying the jail didn't need to cast such a wide net with its quarantine.

For example, he says the Centers for Disease Control does not recommend quarantine for people with a vaccination history and no symptoms of the mumps.

"What we're seeing here in Fresno County is a very improper procedure which gives us a lot of concern about what would happen if there really was something dangerous," Schweitzer said.

Dr. Nevin also said any mumps quarantine wouldn't need to last more than five days and questioned why the sheriff's office would release inmates from a quarantine when they wouldn't bring inmates to court.

A previous statement from the jail said "the release process is not being impacted by the virus."

"I hate to speak out of school, but it tells me the quarantine is a bunch of bologna," Schweitzer said.

The county's assistant public health director told us the CDC recommendations don't necessarily apply in places like jails, where people live in very close proximity to each other.

David Luchini said they have to do their best to prevent the spread, so the quarantine is the best possible practice.

And he pointed out they've gotten a new, twelfth mumps diagnosis since they confirmed 11 cases right after the original quarantine. They've gotten no new cases for several days now.

The presiding judge in Fresno County issued an order a couple weeks ago saying the outbreak was a good enough reason to postpone cases, but he lifted the order Monday.

A sheriff's spokesman told us they're approaching transportation systematically and doing everything they can to minimize exposure.

"On Monday, a judge made a decision to allow quarantined inmates into the courthouse to attend hearings," said Tony Botti. "However, this will be done systematically. A deputy/correctional officer will individually escort the inmate from the jail to court and then back to jail. They will never be placed into a holding cell in order to reduce possible contamination of an area. The inmate will be wearing a mask during this entire procedure.

As for the jail releasing quarantined inmates back into the community after serving their time or posting bond, we have no choice but to do so. We cannot legally hold a person in jail if their sentence is complete or they make bail. Everyone released is given health material so they are educated about good hygiene practices and what to be aware of in terms of symptoms of the mumps."

Quarantined defendants like Sipes started trickling in, but almost 400 of them are still in isolation.
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