The George Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa is shown on July 21, 2015. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has announced that an inmate at the George Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa died of COVID-19 – the first coronavirus jail death that department officials have publicly acknowledged. 

The news, announced late Friday, comes three months after 62-year-old Edel Loredo died from the virus and a month after inewsource first reported it. Loredo was facing multiple charges including drug possession and sales, a DUI and a probation violation. 

In an interview with inewsource in January, Loredo’s daughter said her family believes the jail didn’t provide her father with proper medical treatment. She said he complained of being sick and weak and that the jail staff only gave him Tylenol. 

“We don’t feel that my dad received all the care that he needed,” Virgen Loredo said. 

She told inewsource Saturday that the Sheriff’s Department had not reached out to her about its announcement nor provided her any update on her father’s death.

Why this matters

Shared housing makes jails and prisons especially susceptible to the spread of COVID-19. That’s why public health officials say accurate data on coronavirus cases and deaths is needed to make sure adequate health care standards are in place to protect inmates and those working in these facilities.

Loredo was transferred to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on Nov. 13 for shortness of breath and a fever, according to the sheriff’s press release. He was pronounced dead at the hospital Nov. 21 at 10:10 p.m.

His death came shortly after a COVID-19 outbreak at the George Bailey jail where several dozen inmates tested positive

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office completed its investigation of the case early last week. 

The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be respiratory failure due to COVID-19 with contributing causes of asthma, diabetes and hypertension, according to the sheriff’s press release.  

Virgen Loredo told inewsource she was able to visit her father the day of his death for 30 minutes as two guards sat near the door. 

“He was on a ventilator,” she said. “Seeing him like that, it did break my heart.”

Loredo loved music and playing the guitar, she said. He also struggled with alcohol and spent time in sober living. He was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. in his twenties. San Diego Superior Court records show he’s had a criminal record since 1983. 

The delayed death announcement is not unusual. In late January, an inewsource report found government agencies across Southern California had problems counting COVID-19 jail deaths, including slow data processing that led to inaccurate numbers.

As of publication, the Sheriff’s Department had not included Loredo’s death in its COVID-19 jail data, which it publishes online — though it did report in its online data the death of one staff member who died of COVID-19. A spokesperson said the department would add Loredo’s death on Monday. 

Loredo’s death is also not yet included in a database from the state’s jail oversight board

Counties are supposed to submit data to the board on a weekly basis, but many have not done so regularly. 

The staff member who died in October worked as a counselor at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune

Loredo is not the only incarcerated person to die from the virus in San Diego County. The Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, the county’s lone state prison, had a surge of COVID-19 cases in December and January. The facility has had 17 deaths from the virus, according to a state run tracker. Donovan has the fourth-highest death rate among California state prisons. 

An inewsource review of county medical examiner records found that at least two inmates who died at Donovan from COVID-19 were found in their cells unresponsive after showing symptoms. Both men were in their 60s.

But the death toll for people living in local jails and prisons could be higher. The family of a 34-year-old man who died at a hospital last year has sued San Diego County, saying he contracted the virus while at the Vista Detention Facility. 

The Sheriff’s Department has said the claims are untrue and has not counted the death in its COVID-19 data. 

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Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Mary Plummer is a former editor and investigative reporter for inewsource. Her reporting has ranged from major breaking news, such as covering some of California’s deadliest wildfires and mass shootings, to intensive beat reporting. Her investigations have uncovered failings in the state prison system...