ORANGE (CBSLA) — An Orange County jail released half of its inmates in the wake of the worsening coronavirus pandemic, but one of those released was unknowingly infected with the virus and spread it to his family — including his mother, who has since passed away.
“How do you explain that to a 4-year-old that, you know, Nona might not come home,” Stefani Espinosa, the man’s sister said.
Espinosa, who was isolating in her bedroom after also contracting the illness, said she would rather be with her mom, 65-year-old Belinda Rodriguez, who was battling COVID-19 in the intensive care unit of Orange Coast Memorial Hospital.
CBSLA learned Tuesday that Rodriguez died.
“It’s just shocking that in a matter of days, you know, she could be in this stage where we don’t know if she’s gonna make it through the night,” she said of her mother.
The family’s ordeal started two weeks ago when Espinosa said her brother was released early from Theo Lacy Jail. He was tested two days before being released, but did not get his test results prior to his release. He then went to the apartment where Espinosa and her mother live for a brief visit.
The following day, Espinosa said her brother called the jail to ask about his belongings. She said that’s when he was told he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Even though our exposure was minimal, we still isolated and went to go get tested,” she said.
Espinosa said the first tests for both her and her mom, who has diabetes, came back negative. But a few days later, they both started experiencing symptoms and a subsequent round of testing came back positive.
“And then Christmas morning, when I went to go get her to open presents, she could barely walk down the hallway,” Espinosa said.
Rodriguez was rushed to the emergency room at Orange Coast Memorial Hospital, and on Sunday she was intubated after her oxygen level dropped.
Espinosa said she wishes the Orange County Sheriff’s Department would have kept her brother in custody until his test results came back.
“How they could release my brother without letting him know his results,” she said. “It was one day, and they couldn’t wait to release him.”
OCSD released a statement that said, in part:
“When inmates are released and have medical needs including COVID, OC Health has a process in place to make contact during the release process to provide information. If they need to contact them after release, they use the information the inmate provided when they were booked into jail.”
The department said it could not comment on the particular case of Espinosa’s brother, but said that there were 1,400 inmates released early that the Orange County Health Care Agency will be following up with if necessary.
“Wear your mask and do the right thing,” Espinosa said. “Real people are dying that have families and people that love them.”