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Jackson County Jail taking multifaceted approach to COVID-19 mitigation

I was curious about COVID-19 protocols for staff at the Jackson County Jail following the recent outbreak.

— No name given

Protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the jail, intended to protect both staff and inmates, have been in place for months, with some practices stretching back to the earliest days of the pandemic, jail and public health officials said.

“The big picture is that we’ve been working with the sheriff and the jail on ways to keep the inmates safe, ways to keep the staff safe,” said Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames. “With the understanding that this was a high-risk situation.”

An example of that “high-risk situation” happened toward the end of February when 10 inmates who shared a common area tested positive for the virus, prompting jail staff to isolate them from the rest of the facility. Jail commander Capt. Josh Aldrich said those who tested positive have been doing OK since the test results were announced.

“So far everybody’s doing well,” Aldrich said, adding medical personnel continue to meet with the inmates twice a day to check in.

When new inmates come into the jail, they are initially placed in a separate unit from the rest of the population. Male inmates are placed in a section previously used for female housing prior to the facility’s basement addition being added a few years ago, Aldrich said. Female inmates are placed in specific cells within the female section that are separate from the rest of the unit, he said.

“They stay until everybody has been in there 14 days, and then medical comes and does a screening,” Aldrich said, adding that if everything looks good, then they get moved into the main facility.

Cleaning processes have also been enhanced, and testing protocols have been streamlined. The jail ordered masks in July for staff and every adult in custody. Most comply with it, and those who don’t are “usually housed separately,” Aldrich said. The jail has also installed Plexiglas barriers.

Staff who have tested positive for the illness — Sheriff Nathan Sickler didn’t have an exact number, but said there have been “several” — have been asked to isolate, and potential exposures or close contacts are asked to quarantine, Sickler said.

Vaccines have also been made available to staff and inmates, Shames said. Jail staff and public health officials continue to meet regularly.

“I’m really impressed with how the jail staff has been ... handling the whole risk of COVID over the last few months,” Shames said. “It think that’s really prepared us for the moment that we did have COVID in the jail.”

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