COVID-19 has struck inmates and staff at detention centers across Kentucky, including a recent outbreak at the Warren County Regional Jail.
There have also been outbreaks of the virus at the Allen and Barren county jails.
The Kentucky Department of Corrections has authority over state prisons and has managed outbreaks at the Green River Correctional Complex in Muhlenberg County and the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Shelby County.
But county jails are under local control.
Each county contracts with a health care provider and collaborates with the local health department to manage medical care at the jail, including testing and quarantine guidelines for COVID-19.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Warren County Jailer Steven Harmon about his personal experience being sick with COVID-19, and about the number of positive cases at the jail and the ongoing testing.
Harmon: We're about percent through testing the inmate population. There were approximately 250 positive inmates. We've had as many as 20 staff members out positive through probably the first part of December. We are still testing at this point. We're back to retesting the folks that were negative in the cells in the beginning of December. Very few of the inmates had any symptoms. We have had a couple that were hospitalized. However, they were a little older in age and had other health issues, but they are being cared for. And most all of the staff have recovered and were released by the health department to come back to work. And we are still testing the remainder of the first round of testing of inmate population. And then we're back to testing some that should be past 14 days and considered recovered, once we determine that there are no more new positives in the cells.
Miller: How many staff and how many inmates total in the jail?
Harmon: Well, at the time it started there were 648 inmates and I have approximately 100 staff.
Miller: So at this point, you're testing all the inmates and all the staff, is that correct?
Harmon: The staff are testing when they have symptoms. We're wearing N95 masks. We've been cleaning and had protocols in place for this since March. And so the fact that we weren't having any symptomatic inmates until December goes to attest to the work and dedication of the staff and the inmates. We clean in the inside the cells a couple of times a day. We clean it every head count. We clean high traffic areas once an hour. So we're doing what we can. Unfortunately in a congregate setting, like a detention center that's over populated, once it's introduced it does spread quickly. And so we are working with medical. We've suspended everything that's not essential to our operation, and we're working closely with medical to ensure that the inmates are cared for properly.
Miller: Is their space, in other words, there's quarantining required when people test positive. Is there space in the jail, or have you had to add space somewhere for that?
Harmon: There is not space to separate positives and negatives. If they live that closely together, you do the test, and then three days later, you get results. So even if they tested negative at the time of the swab, that doesn't mean they're negative at the time that we get the test results. And so due to space restrictions, we basically quarantine that group of folks together, and then we go back and retest the folks that were negative in the first round at the direction of the health department. If there are new positives, then we start that 14-day clock over again.
Miller: Well, Jailer Harmon, I heard that you were also out because you tested positive. How are you doing?
Harmon: I did and I'm doing much better. There are some lasting effects that take weeks or months to get over if you if you have a bad case of it. I was very sick, but was able to work from home doing the health department reporting and all that goes with mandatory reporting with that, and was able to, you know, keep tabs on what was going on here in the facility. But I have been back for a week and doing a little bit better every day.
Miller: Well, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me. I really appreciate it.
Harmon: You're welcome.
Miller: I've been talking with Warren County Jailer Steven Harmon. I'm Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.