LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Although vaccines are available for people held in Louisville’s jail, Metro Corrections says it is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases as its inmate population also rises.
The jail currently has 31 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to a Saturday news release from Metro Corrections.
Several days later, Metro Corrections spokesman Steve Durham said during a Thursday update that number had lowered to 21 individuals who tested positive for the virus within the past 10 days.
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At the same time, the in-custody population in the main jail complex, including the Hall of Justice downtown, increased by 113 people in 30 days, according to Metro Corrections.
There are currently 1,610 inmates in the complex, exceeding the jail’s design capacity of 1,353 beds, Durham said.
He added the jail has seen 472 total cases of COVID-19 among individuals booked into Metro Corrections since the pandemic began last March, with all but nearly two dozen of those people since released.
The majority of cases in the jail have been among those who have not been vaccinated, Durham said.
Metro Corrections works with the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness on testing, vaccinating and monitoring inmates as part of the fight against COVID-19, with the health department also responsible for studying test results to look for cases of the more contagious Delta variant, Durham added.
Officials are still studying to see whether the Delta variant or other variants of the virus have popped up in the jail, according to Durham.
“Correctional facilities face unique challenges in battling the spread of COVID-19, given the number of people in one facility and the need for 24/7 staffing, with staff members rotating in and out,” the Metro Corrections news release said. “But since the start of the pandemic, LMDC has taken steps to slow its spread, per guidance from Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness.”
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Those steps, according to Metro Corrections, include having a health care professional screen all offenders who enter the facility, taking their temperature and assessing for COVID-19 symptoms.
Maj. Darrell Goodlette, who oversees the “COVID team” at the jail, said a “low number” of incarcerated people who tested positive for the virus had been exhibiting symptoms.
“We’ve definitely been in a worse place before,” Goodlette said of the COVID-19 situation inside the jail. “…I have no doubt that we’ll get back to a good space.”
Durham said the past year is another reminder of the need for “real bail reform” in Kentucky so that people accused of minor violations but unable to afford bond do not have to sit in jail amid a pandemic.
Metro Corrections has once again asked local prosecutors to see if certain low-risk, non-violent offenders and those accused of non-sex-related offenses could be released on home incarceration to help free up room in the jail.
“Jails,” Durham said, “were not designed for a pandemic.”
COVID-19 vaccinations and other precautions in the jail
Inmates who are symptomatic are given face masks and isolated in a housing unit on the medical floor or placed into designated overflow housing, Metro Corrections said, adding it is following the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities for patient interaction, including the use of recommended personal protective equipment.
Durham added the jail does not require incarcerated individuals to wear face coverings.
In addition, inmates and staff are offered weekly testing and COVID-19 vaccines, the Metro Corrections news release said. Symptomatic inmates are tested, with results available within 24 to 48 hours, according to the jail.
Through July 7, the jail said its medical contractor, Wellpath, and Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness staff have vaccinated over 1,065 people who have admitted to the jail, with roughly 90% of those vaccinated individuals since released from custody.
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Nursing staff from Wellpath have made rounds at least twice daily to each inmate housing unit, and inmates can report symptoms to nursing or security staff, according to Metro Corrections.
All employees are required to wear face coverings, with washable face coverings offered to inmates as well.
Inmate gyms have been closed to prevent any potential spread of the coronavirus, with social visiting and programming also still suspended indefinitely. Temporary inmate community releases have also been suspended, except for “essential medical care,” per government public health orders.
Inmates are also supplied “appropriate cleaning supplies to use in their housing units,” Metro Corrections said in the news release.
“If an employee has a temperature or is symptomatic, they are sent home and urged to consult with their physician,” the news release said. “If their physician determines that testing is appropriate, Metro Corrections will assist the employee. The work area of any employee testing positive is sanitized. And employees testing positive will isolate at home until cleared by their physician.”
Since the pandemic first hit Kentucky in March 2020, Metro Corrections along with jails and prisons across the country have dealt with occassional COVID-19 outbreaks among inmates and staff.
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The widespread rollout of COVID-19 vaccines since December has helped limit new cases and virus-related deaths around the U.S.
Louisville remains in the yellow zone for COVID-19, which signifies there is still community spread, but the 193 newly confirmed cases and four deaths in the past week, along with an average incidence rate of 3.6 cases per 100,000 residents, represent an improvement from last year, when vaccines were not yet available and cases surged.
Still, local health leaders are urging residents to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so, especially because the city has seen at least five confirmed cases — but likely more — of the contagious Delta variant.
Reach Billy Kobin at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville Metro Corrections reports rise in COVID-19 cases and jail population