Navigating COVID behind bars: positive tests at Middle River

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 5:41 PM EST
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Middle River Regional Jail continues to navigate safety measures and cases of COVID-19.

A jail officials said, on average, only about 10% of people booked are vaccinated, so it’s very common for an inmate to have COVID when they’re brought into the facility. Because of that, testing is a very important factor in inmate health and safety.

Jail superintendent Jeffery Newton said there are four inmates with COVID-19 as of Monday, Dec. 27.

“We generally have someone in our custody that’s quarantining as a result of testing positive for COVID,” said Newton.

Inmates get tested when they come in, and they quarantine for at least six days, according to Newton. After that, they test again.

“As long as population permits, we quarantine again for another four to six days and then test again. Everyone’s tested three times before they get introduced into the general population,” he said.

As for staff, he said about 60% are vaccinated and unvaccinated staff are tested once a week.

“Everybody when they come into work every day has to sign the log, has to take their temperature. Everybody has to wear a mask unless they’re alone in their office,” Newton said.

Up until October, Newton said the health district provided the rapid tests for free. Now, they’ve taken on that cost and responsibility.

“We have to go to the open market and buy them, so that’s an unanticipated added expense we’re having to absorb,” Newton said.

With increased demand for rapid tests over the holidays, the cost is the least of his worries.

“The most significant concern is: can we find enough tests? We need about 700 tests a week,” he said.

So far, they’ve been able to get the tests, but he’s hoping something in the community changes soon.

“I’m hoping the demand in the community will either ease or the market will respond to that demand and produce more rapid tests so they’ll be readily available,” Newton said.

Newton said cases tend to increase at Middle River when they increase in the Valley, so they’ve made some changes to include stricter safety protocol.

“We’ve reduced inmate movement over the holidays and suspended some programming. I have not cancelled family visitation. I’ve been reluctant to do that, and it seems to have worked fine,” he said.

Newton said they’ll continue to evaluate safety protocol as more information about Omicron becomes available, but no changes are planned right now.

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