Sheriff: second deputy claimed by virus probably contracted it at funeral

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A second Riverside County sheriff’s deputy who died from complications connected to the novel coronavirus most likely contracted the disease while attending his mother’s funeral and not while on the job, Sheriff Chad Bianco said today.

“Deputy (David) Werksman was hit with the symptoms early. He had a hard time,” Bianco said during a news briefing outside the sheriff’s administration building in downtown Riverside. “He was fighting severe respiratory problems for two weeks before he went to the hospital. He had been seen by medical before but was sent home with antibiotics to recover.”

Werksman died Thursday, hours after another career lawman, Terrell Young, succumbed to viral complications, according to the sheriff’s department.

Bianco said Werksman, a 51-year-old father of three, was a bomb squad technician turned administrator for the agency, where he worked for 22 years. He developed symptoms three weeks ago, almost immediately after laying his mother to rest. From that point on, his health declined, according to the sheriff.

“I think we’ve all got to be honest with ourselves … about the nature of this virus,” Bianco said. “The virus is being spread and no one knows it. Some of our employees have developed mild symptoms, while others are saying they felt like they were hit with a truck.”

Bianco confirmed that 26 sheriff’s employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, while 13 inmates have been verified as infected. Two employees have been hospitalized.

“The impact of this is not the normal flu,” he said. “This is something serious. We’re in for a very rude awakening to the reality of what this is.”

Bianco said that while almost all of the departmental coronavirus cases have been connected to the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, where Young worked, a patrol deputy and his wife are also now infected. The sheriff said it is theorized they were exposed to the virus while engaged in a family affair and not because the patrolman was on the job.

“We’re doing the same thing everyone else is doing. We’ve got people working from home telecommuting. We’re down to a skeleton crew here at the administration building,” the sheriff said, adding that deputies on patrol are wearing masks or other facial covers, sometimes protective eyewear, and surgical gloves.

“We’re out in the public doing our jobs everyday, and we can’t stop,” he said.

Bianco worried that the general public’s belief in the COVID-19 threat is waning, despite predictions of a “surge” in cases this month.

“I would appeal to everyone that this is not going to stop until you abide by the stay-at-home orders and avoid public places,” the sheriff said.

Riverside Sheriffs Association President Bill Young characterized Werksman’s loss as “excruciating.”

“His death is a grim reminder of the risks that our members face every day, serving the public,” Young said.

According to Bianco, Terrell Young was assigned to the Murrieta jail and was evidently exposed to COVID-19 during the week of March 15-21 while transporting an inmate to the Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley for an examination.

Since then, 22 sheriff’s employees assigned to the jail have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Testing of employees and inmates is continuing, and those detainees confirmed to be infected have been placed in isolation, according to the sheriff.

He said dealing with the virus is an “ongoing emergency,” and with nearly 40 deputies calling in sick in the last week based on fears they may be ill with either COVID-19 or the flu, holes are having to be filled in staffing.

The sheriff said that because more than half the county courthouses are closed and the remainder are open only a few hours each day, the department has been able to pull bailiffs from their usual assignments and place them wherever needed — in the jails or on patrol.

Bianco on Thursday acknowledged that bookings are down 50% since the virus crisis started, and that has relieved sheriff’s resources to a large extent. The drop was attributed to people honoring stay-at-home recommendations and therefore foiling criminals who might otherwise be on the prowl.