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Sheriff Gives Update on COVID-19 Outbreak in Richmond Jail

Protest sign attached to car door
Advocates rallied in April for the release of inmates at the Richmond City Jail as the COVID-19 outbreak intensified. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

This story was updated at 8:30 p.m.

Richmond City Sheriff Antionette Irving said, as of last Friday, 81 people incarcerated at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19. Irving updated City Council on the latest numbers Tuesday night.

Irving said people who tested positive are being quarantined together, and a second group of 126 people are in quarantine due to possible exposure. She said staff check their vitals a minimum of two times a day and they are scheduled to end quarantine this week.

There are also seven staff members who are being quarantined because they tested positive or were exposed. 

Concerns about conditions at the jail have mounted over the past few weeks. 

Rumors circulated on social media about a person in custody having died from COVID-19. However, officials with the Richmond Sheriff's Office have repeatedly denied the claim.

Jessica Moore said her friend, 34-year-old Virgil Tucker, has been incarcerated at the jail since February and recently tested positive for the virus. Moore said this came after he and a few others were asked to clean jail pods or cell blocks where COVID-positive people had been quarantined. 

“I had called up there several times to talk to medical and to talk to just anybody who could give me an answer to any question. And I’m asking them basic questions, you know, what is the protocol that you guys have set in place? You know, in order to remedy the spread of COVID in the jail. Just super basic questions that anybody would ask. And every time I would ask the question, it’s ‘I don't know, you don't know, you have to call this number’.”

Moore said her friend said he was locked in the pod and not able to leave until it was clean. 

“And then when it was time for them to leave that area, they had asked if they can get new jumpers...And they were denied that,” Moore said. “They were told that if they want to use jumpers that they would have to pay for them on commissary, which only comes once a week.”

VPM has reached out to the jail to confirm whether incarcerated people are asked to clean pods where COVID-positive people are being held and is awaiting a response. 

Last week, Richmond City Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch asked Sheriff Antoinette Irving to provide a report on how they are mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, how they are protecting incarcerated people and how they’re keeping family members updated on the outbreak.  

“They are community members as well. They have family members who care and love for them that are very worried, some of which have reached out to me and asked for help,” Lynch said. “Wouldn't you want to know what the plans were and how well they were being taken care of and what was being done to, help limit the spread?”

People at rally
Protesters gathered at Richmond Jail. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A protest at the jail over conditions ended when Richmond Police arrested 11 people last Tuesday. Police were assisting the Sheriff’s Office with protesters who had refused to move from jail property. One person on a bicycle was tackled by police after he tried to block a tow truck that officers called to remove an illegally parked car. Other protesters were charged for trying to interfere with his arrest. 

The facility first confirmed a surge in COVID-19 cases the last week in August, with 103 incarcerated people testing positive for the virus. As of last Wednesday, 91 people — more than 13 percent of those in custody — tested positive and are in quarantine. 

Jail officials announced that they began mass testing on July 6 -- the first widespread tests to be conducted at the jail since the beginning of the pandemic. But, they said, 85% of the inmates refused to test at the time.