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Josephine County Jail linked to 30 COVID-19 cases

Thirty people incarcerated or working at the Josephine County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office.

An investigation into the outbreak began Jan. 26, when several inmates reported flu-like symptoms, according to the release. The sheriff’s office separated the inmates from the general population and had them tested for the coronavirus. On Friday morning, six tests returned positive.

Jail officials “immediately” contacted Josephine County Public Health and administered 15-minute Abbott BinaxNOW antigen tests on all jail inmates and staff that day, and another 19 people tested positive. Five more jail inmates and staff tested positive Tuesday, the release said.

The jail plans another wave of rapid tests on jail inmates and staff Monday, and the results will determine future tests.

Among the Josephine County Jail inmates who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 is Shannon Christopher Harrop, the accused ringleader in a string of robberies on Southern Oregon marijuana growers in which he and others allegedly posed as police officers, according to filings in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Harrop was arrested last summer at a Southern Oregon self-storage facility after he allegedly planned a heist called “The Boys,” in which out-of-state robbers planned to dress up as police and rob growers after using Army surplus handcuffs.

Harrop filed a document Friday seeking release from jail so he could return to his family in Southern California. Harrop’s defense lawyer Ronald Howen of Lakeview stated in the filing that his client tested positive Thursday. Howen argued that because Josephine County suffers from “an acute underfunding” of public agencies because of “persistent opposition to tax increases,” the jail lacks the resources to treat Harrop’s illness and underlying health conditions.

Howen’s filing alleged that this week’s COVID-19 outbreak was the “second outbreak in 60 days at the jail affecting inmates and staff.”

According to a Nov. 5 press release from Sheriff Dave Daniel, the earlier “outbreak” involved one confirmed case.

On Oct. 30, five inmates at the jail reported flu-like symptoms, according to the release. The inmates were quarantined in cells that use negative airflow to prevent circulating the air to other parts of the building. On Nov. 4, test results for four inmates came back negative and one returned positive.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke denied Harrop’s motion for release Monday, court records show.

A call to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately returned Tuesday, but in January the department said in a news release that no inmates had yet tested positive in the Jackson County Jail. The release stated that no inmates in the jail in Medford were linked to an Oregon Health Authority workplace outbreak investigation involving Jackson County Sheriff’s Office employees.

According to the state’s most recent weekly outbreak report released Jan. 27, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office outbreak at the Central Point headquarters is no longer active. An investigation began Dec. 15, the most recent onset was recorded Dec. 27, and the workplace outbreak was ultimately linked to 24 cases.

The jails in Medford and Grants Pass have different layouts. According to earlier news reports, the Jackson County Jail was built in 1981 using what’s known as a “linear” design, where corrections deputies patrol long hallways. The Josephine County Jail was built in 2000 using a “podular” design in which deputies monitor inmates from the center of a large general population area.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.