Napa County is ready to open its new reentry facility, not as a place to rehabilitate low-risk inmates as intended, but as a COVID-19 isolation-and-quarantine center.
The county Board of Supervisors approved the move during a special meeting last week. The state, which helped pay for the facility, granted permission for the temporary use through June, 2021.
“Putting it to this use at this time seems like a great example of government pivoting to do what’s needed in a financially responsible and morally responsible way,” Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon said.
People who go to the facility to quarantine or isolate would do so voluntarily, County Executive Officer Minh Tran said. The county issues isolation orders to people with COVID-19 and quarantine orders to those exposed to the virus.
“Most people do so at their own homes,” Tran said. “But for those who cannot comply with the order because they have no good place to go to do so, this facility will be available for them.”
Possible users include those residing in long-term care facilities, the homeless and residents whose crowded homes don’t allow for isolation or quarantine, a county report said.
The county’s $23.4 million, 72-bed reentry facility is along Highway 221 near Syar quarry. It was built as a place for low-risk inmates to learn career and life skills prior to release.
After a year’s delay because of construction problems, the reentry facility was to open this spring. Then COVID-19 hit, requiring social distancing. The county released low-risk offenders in jail who might have qualified for the reentry program and the reentry facility sits empty.
Resident James Hinton questioned using a “criminal facility” as a quarantine-and-isolation center. He would rather have someone in his family be housed by the county in a hotel, he told supervisors during public comments.
“Raise your hand if you would rather spend tonight in a brand-new dorm out near Syar quarry,” he said during the meeting. “Now raise your hand if you’d rather stay at the Archer hotel tonight?”
Resident Wendell Coleman criticized having poverty- stricken residents quarantine and isolate in “a jail.”
Tran stressed that the reentry facility doesn’t look like a jail and doesn’t have cells.
“This is not being used as a jail. This is a brand-new dormitory. There are no bars,” he said.
Napa County two months ago opened a quarantine-and-isolation facility at the county airport with cots.
“This will replace that,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “This is a couple steps up from the (airport) respite center.”
Supervisor Ryan Gregory said he’s rather have his parents stay at the brand-new reentry facility than the airport shelter or at some hotels he’s seen.
“It’s a new, modern facility, yet to be used,” Dillon said.
That airport shelter was staffed by the National Guard, which is no longer able to provide staffing. The reentry facility will require less supervision and staffing, county spokesperson Elizabeth Scott said.
“For example, the facility near the airport did not have individual bathrooms and patients who were quarantined there needed escorts to and from the facilities,” she said in an email. “The reentry facility provides individual bathrooms and no need for staff escort.”
Renting a hotel to be available for quarantine and isolation could cost the county $100,000 a month, Tran said. Using the reentry facility saves the county this expense.
As of Thursday, the county had fewer than 10 people being placed in hotels for isolation, he told supervisors.
The county budgeted $4.3 million from reserve savings for COVID-19 emergency operations, which began in early February. It has spent about $3 million, and the response will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, Scott said.
“We are reevaluating our current contracts to look for cost savings to ensure that our response continues to protect the community from the consequences of the pandemic,” she said in a Friday email.
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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