Another Riverside County Sheriff’s Department deputy died of complications from COVID-19 as the number of infected employees rose to 26, authorities said Friday.
Deputy David Werksman, a 22-year veteran of the department, is the second deputy at the agency to succumb to the respiratory illness after 54-year-old Deputy Terrell Young, the Sheriff’s Department announced. They both died Thursday.
“It is hard to imagine that just 24 hours ago, our Department was in pain due to the COVID-19 death of Deputy Terrell Young. Our members are heartbroken and hurting,” the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association’s president Bill Young said in a statement.
It is believed Werksman contracted the virus several weeks ago while attending or making arrangements for his mother’s funeral, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said at a news conference Friday.
The deputy was admitted to a hospital with respiratory failure about a week ago, two weeks after he started experiencing flu-like symptoms. He had previously seen a doctor who sent him home with antibiotics, according to the sheriff.
“It hit him pretty early… and he had a hard time with it. He was fighting severe respiratory problems for almost two weeks before he was eventually hospitalized,” Bianco said.
The sheriff said Werksman had no contact with Young or the county’s jails, which are tied to most of the department’s 26 cases among its employees.
A small number of employees did have contact with Werksman, but they are asymptomatic, Bianco said.
Werksman has worked at the Robert Presley Detention Center, the sheriff’s Jurupa Valley and Lake Elsinore stations, and was most recently assigned to the sheriff’s administration.
The deputy also worked on the Hazardous Device Team and was an FBI certified public safety bomb technician, a hazardous materials team specialist, and a nuclear and radiological first responder, authorities said.
He is survived by his wife and three adult children, according to the sheriff.
“I’m seriously heartbroken,” Bianco said, describing Werksman as a “great man” known for his generosity, kindness and willingness to help anyone.
Out of the department’s 26 employees who tested positive for the coronavirus, two of them remained hospitalized as of Friday, Bianco said.
Most of the infected employees are deputies who worked at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center, where Young worked, Bianco said.
The sheriff said Young likely contracted COVID-19 from an inmate he had escorted to the Riverside University Health System in March. Since then, almost all of Deputy Young’s team had been tested for the virus and department is waiting on coronavirus test results for 30 to 40 employees.
“Some of them have had very, very mild to no symptoms and some of them said they felt like they’ve been hit by a truck,” the sheriff said of the infected employees.
About 99% of the department’s cases are tied to its jails, where 13 inmates have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the sheriff said Friday.
There were 493 coronavirus infections and 14 deaths reported in Riverside County as of Thursday, according to the Riverside University Health System. At least 50 patients have recovered.
The sheriff strongly urged people to stay home and follow social distancing orders.
“I don’t believe people are taking this serious and, unfortunately, I don’t think they will until it happens to someone close to them,” Bianco said, describing seeing traffic on freeways slowly going back to normal.
The sheriff said the department is limiting the number of people working and all employees are being told to wear masks and also cover their eyes if possible.
The department has also stepped up cleanings of its facilities and is isolating inmates who show symptoms of the illness. “We’ve been taking this seriously from the beginning,” the sheriff said.
A procession for the fallen deputy will be held at 2 p.m. and will go from Perris to Riverside.