A 15-year Riverside County Sheriff's Department veteran assigned to the Murrieta jail died Thursday from coronavirus, revealing the "drastic aspects" of the pathogen, which Sheriff Chad Bianco said has infected 25 other employees, one of whom is in critical condition.
"We want to be very clear about the danger and seriousness of this virus," Bianco said during a briefing at the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside. "This virus is being spread by inmates and employees who are not displaying any type of symptoms. It's very, very difficult to identify. We don't know they're sick until they come down with symptoms."
According to Bianco, the deputy who died from the virus, Terrell Young, worked at the Byrd Detention Center and was evidently exposed to COVID- 19 during the week of March 15-21 while transporting an inmate to the Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley for an examination.
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On March 22, Young showed up for his shift and fell ill a short time later, prompting his supervisor to send him home, Bianco said, adding that the inmate who was escorted also became ill. Young's condition worsened, and he was hospitalized, culminating in his death. The inmate has since been quarantined but has not been hospitalized, according to the sheriff.
Bianco said since that time, 25 sheriff's employees have been diagnosed with coronavirus, along with 11 inmates at the southwest jail, which has capacity for 1,200 detainees.
Twenty-two employees from the Byrd Detention Center, two from the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside and one assigned to the sheriff's infirmary have been verified as infected. A 54-year-old sheriff's employee, whose identity was not disclosed, is severely ill and in intensive care, Bianco said.
He described Young as a "fantastic role model" to his four children and a man fellow deputies could "count on for good advice."
"He was compassionate in dealing with the public and inmates," the sheriff said. "He was known for his smile and will be deeply missed."
Bianco said the department has been coordinating with the Riverside University Health System to implement precautionary measures to safeguard against COVID-19 exposure, and it was not entirely certain how Young came into contact with the virus, but it was probably during the trip to the hospital with the inmate.
The sheriff said some of the infected employees are showing definite flu-like symptoms, while others are giving no indication of illness, and the pathogen doesn't discriminate based on age or physical condition.
"We are seeing the drastic aspects of this virus, and they are not pretty," Bianco told reporters. "Social distancing is a must, but more importantly, stay home. There are people walking around, carrying the virus, and no one knows about it."
He said dealing with the virus is an "ongoing emergency," and with nearly 40 deputies calling in sick in the last week based on fears they may be ill with either COVID-19 or the flu, holes are having to be filled in staffing. Fortunately, the sheriff said, with more than half the courthouses closed and the remainder open only a few hours each day, the department has been able to pull bailiffs from their usual assignments and place them wherever needed -- in the jails or on patrol.
None of the county's five correctional facilities are open to the public, meaning no family visitations while the COVID-19 emergency continues, according to Bianco.
He said 60 inmates are in quarantine, awaiting test results, and all incoming inmates are being screened for potential infection. Jail employees are also being screened, Bianco said.
"I would like to impress upon the public that if you have a loved one in jail, you don't have anything to worry about," he said. "We are doing a fantastic job quarantining inmates (who are showing signs of illness), treating them and keeping them separate from the general population."
He acknowledged that bookings are down 50% since the virus crisis started, and that has relieved sheriff's resources to a large extent. The drop was attributed to people honoring stay-at-home recommendations and therefore foiling criminals who might otherwise be on the prowl.
Bianco regretted that Young's passing is not being handled in the same way as a typical "duty death."
"We cannot have contact with the family other than telephone," he said. "We can't have our normal gatherings for support, as we would a normal duty death. It's something we're all having to learn."
Riverside Sheriffs Association President Bill Young, who is not related to the deceased deputy, said the union has been in regular contact with the family.
"Our association, and law enforcement family as a whole, mourns with all of you, and our deepest sympathy and prayers extend to the family of Deputy Terrell Young," he said. "Please stay safe and take care of one another during these unprecedented, extremely difficult times."
RSA represents nearly 3,000 deputies, District Attorney's Office investigators and other county law enforcement personnel.
Young joined the department in 2005 and worked assignments primarily in western county area, providing security at the Byrd and Riverside jails, as well as the courts.
RSA, in partnership with First Responder Processing, has established a relief fund for Young's family. Donations can be made via https://rcdsarelief.firstresponderprocessing.com/.