Communication controversy after COVID outbreak at courthouse
Written by Marc Albert
Sonoma County Hall of Justice photo credit: (Credit: State of California)
There's a bit more disagreement over information sharing and responsibility in the local legal community, after the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Saturday that a COVID-19 outbreak among court bailiffs went largely unreported, exposing lawyers, their clients and visitors in five courtrooms to the potentially deadly virus. KRCB's Marc Albert has more.
According to the story, nine of the county court's 11 bailiffs were infected with the coronavirus between September 14th and 21st. Word only spread to lawyers at the courthouse through rumor. The outbreak also infected at least one attorney--who was fully vaccinated.
Reporting by the Press Democrat's Emily Wilder and Lori Carter found evidence of an informal agreement between public entities with workers at the court---prosecutors, public defenders and others---to notify each other of an infection. Wilder reported the sheriff's office declined knowledge of the agreement, while maintaining that public health guidelines and risk management protocols were followed.
The informal arrangement though is fairly irrelevant, Wilder said. "The employer is required to notify its staff that they could have been exposed. As well as alerting any other employer who has potentially exposed employees in the same workplace. And that's supposed to happen within one day."
Wilder reported District Attorney Jill Ravitch asked Sheriff Mark Essick for better communication. If anything, the incident exposes some of the complexities of a public health crisis. "We're 19 months into a pandemic but a lot of these agencies are still, they told us they're still learning how to deal with COVID 19, with outbreaks. It raises questions about how these wrinkles in communication, in notification haven't been ironed out 19 months into the pandemic."
While public employees have advocates, Wilder says some are on their own.
"The private attorneys who we spoke to are especially concerned because, while there is this dispute or squabble among the justice partners, nobody, none of them are required to notify the private attorneys, or their clients or inmates at the jail or the general public. That's not required in these state public health regulations."
A weekday early morning podcast that offers a first look at the top local news stories and weather forecast you need to start your day.
Sonoma County news stories featuring the latest in breaking news, county government, elections, environment, cultural happenings, and updates on your communities, from Petaluma to Cloverdale, and from Sonoma to Bodega Bay, and everyplace in between.