Earlier this week, more cases of COVID-19 were reported at the Lincoln County Jail.
Nearly month after a federal inmate became the first to test positive for the novel coronavirus, 34 inmates have tested positive for the virus in the facility.
In a joint statement with the Lincoln County Health Department released on Monday, the Sheriff’s Office reported 126 inmates were tested for COVID-19. Inmates at the jail who were tested included those who were both symptomatic and asymptomatic.
Five Sheriff’s Office employees also tested positive for novel coronavirus, including two deputies and three corrections officers. All of them have recovered, however, and have since returned to work.
No deaths have been associated with the COVID-19 outbreak at the jail.
Lt. Andy Binder of the Sheriff’s Office said it’s impossible to determine a link between the inmate who contracted the virus last month, and the inmates who tested positive last week. However, he said having enough COVID-19 test kits made all the difference in diagnosing the current cases.
“Inmates who have tested positive are quarantined with other inmates who have positive tests. Most inmates are not sick, but carriers of the COVID-19,” Binder said. “The number of positive tests we have are a direct result of the state providing enough test kits to test all inmates.
“Otherwise, we would only have nine cases, and not 34.”
Because the outbreak happened in such a confined space in the county jail, the LCHD conducted a joint investigation with the Sheriff’s Office.
“Anytime there’s a cluster of cases, we do an investigation and a follow-up of what took place,” said Sarah Valenza, LCHD public information officer. “We worked with the Sheriff’s Department and all of the inmates to figure out a cause (of the outbreak).”
The Sheriff’s Office has implemented a plan with the LCHD to take precautionary measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. None of the inmates who tested positive have been hospitalized, and all have been quarantined.
“The Sheriff’s Office have increased sanitation standards for some time now. Pods are fogged weekly, inmates are provided PPE gear and surface cleaning disinfectants,” Binder said. “Sheriff John Cottle implemented a department segregation practice where deputies do not go into the jail and correctional staff do not enter the main Sheriff’s Office space. We have a designated exchange area for those inmates needed to meet for detective interviews.
“In addition, no outside law enforcement is allowed in the main jail. After initial intake, officers must leave the area and correctional staff will bring the prisoner into the jail to complete the booking process.”
Binder also said the new regulations extend to new inmates entering the county jail.
“New prisoners are quarantined for on observation period of nine days before going into general population,” he said. “Sheriff Cottle put out an e-mail to the police chiefs (in the county) some time ago explaining the new procedures.”