HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Hanover County leaders are trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Pamunkey Regional Jail.
At a news conference Wednesday, the jail Superintendent, Col. James Willett, said in March a COVID response protocol was enacted to address concerns with the pandemic.
“At that time, we designated an isolation unit for all new arrestees, implemented a screening tool and temperature check for all persons prior to entering the building, which included new arrestees, instituted enhanced cleaning measures within the facility, as well as training on hand-washing and proper social distancing,” Willett said.
All non-essential visits and programs were also canceled.
On Aug. 20, two jail staff members tested positive for COVID-19; both were told to self-isolate. Meanwhile, a jail contractor reported a positive test on Aug. 28, followed by a third employee who tested positive on Aug. 31. All cases were individually reported to the Chickahominy Health District.
On Sept. 3, jail officials learned of an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19. Willett said the inmate had been isolated with “cold-like symptoms” within the facility for more than a week.
“The health department responded quickly, and arranged for all jail staff to be tested, and performed offender testing in areas where deemed necessary,” Willett said.
From that mass testing that occurred on Sept. 4/5, 124 inmates out of the 178 tested came back positive for COVID-19; a 70% positivity rate from that group alone.
“It’s virtually impossible to stop outbreaks from occurring within in facilities of these types when you have a congregating setting like this,” said Dr. Tom Franck, Director of the Chickahominy Health District.
“[We have] remove[d] any additional furniture, marked unwanted seats that we need people to space for,” Willett said. “We’ve required masks to be worn by all offenders at all times when in the day room areas and as well as to avoid congregating.”
On Sept. 5, a drive-through testing event was held for staff which resulted in 20 positive tests among 129 staff members; a roughly 15% positivity rate from that group of individuals.
“We find that these numbers are not so shocking,” Franck said. “We’ve had other outbreaks in correctional facilities with percentages that are lower than that… and much higher than that; as high as 93%.”
However, as of Wednesday morning, 12 inmate tests are still pending along with three staff tests; one staff test returned as inconclusive which will require a retest.
“Immediately upon receiving offender results on Monday afternoon, affected individuals were identified and isolated from the general population,” Willett said.
“These positive cases, whether asymptomatic or they have mild symptoms, within 10 days, they will have recovered,” Franck said. “They will have an immunity built up and won’t have to worry about COVID-19 again for at least the next three months.”
The jail remains on lockdown out of an abundance of caution as the health department works to test the roughly 200 remaining inmates.
“We offer the test to the offenders and just as with anyone who can consent to care, they have the right to refuse,” Willett said. “However, for those who would refuse, they will be isolated for 14 days, or at least 10 days incubation period.”
To date, there have been no hospitalizations or deaths.
Additionally, the jail has maintained a no visitation protocol since February. However, jail administrators have arranged a way for families to “visit” virtually with their loved ones.
“We have the ability through our tablet program to offer visits through video as well as for attorneys,” Willett said. “We eliminated contact visits for attorneys as well.”
All affected employees were placed on emergency paid leave. Willett said all offenders are being appropriately treated by medical staff.
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