Coronavirus: OC Sheriff says nearly 500 inmates tested positive, about 85% were asymptomatic

ORANGE COUNTY (KABC) -- Sheriff Don Barnes tackled a number of controversial issues in his monthly press briefing on Friday, including COVID-19 compliance and where he stands on face coverings.

"Face coverings are important. As you saw when I started this, myself, members of my staff, we wear face coverings, I wear face coverings out in public. I do believe that is important," said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.

He also maintains his belief that it's not his department's job to enforce masks. He says they do respond to business compliance calls.

"We don't have a hands-off approach. If someone's non compliant as a business, we will talk to them and see if we can get voluntary compliance. At times when businesses are reluctant to comply, we have taken criminal reports and have submitted them to the District Attorney's office for filing consideration," Barnes said.

To date, Barnes says nearly 500 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 with about 85% of them being asymptomatic. On Friday, he said there are 9 positive inmates in their jails and another 22, newly booked, who are in quarantine.

"The reason we mitigated our numbers in the jail down to single digits is the strict adherence to CDC guidelines, both in hygiene recommendations, in social distancing recommendations and wearing a mask," he said.

He says this supports the Supreme Court's decision this week to block a lower court's order that the jail must impose physical distancing and provide hand sanitizer to inmates.

The sheriff also addressed the evidence booking scandal, saying the department has taken steps to change protocols. Through recent reorganization, he's created the records and property division.

"We have implemented oversight by our sergeants to make sure and ensure that evidence is booked according to policy."

He also mentioned concern over the more than 17,000 prisoners that'll be released from state prisons due to COVID-19. He said about 1,700 will be back in Orange County, which will put a strain on the department.

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