UPDATE (9:21 p.m.):
Tuesday night, Black Hawk County jail administrator, Captain Nathan Neff, issued a news release in regards to the current situation at the Black Hawk County Jail.
“With the revelation that four inmates recently tested positive for Covid-19, many people in the public have understandably expressed concerns over conditions at the Black Hawk County Jail and the steps being taken to keep the inmates safe. Unfortunately there has been some incomplete and/or incorrect information being disseminated that is contributing to this anxiousness. In an effort to help alleviate some of the public’s concerns, I would like to highlight some of the steps we have taken in order to keep the jail safe.
In March we began screening all new arrestees as they came into the jail and quarantining those who displayed symptoms or answered yes to the screening questions. Staff members’ temperatures started being taken both at the beginning and end of each shift. By April we began quarantining every arrestee who came into the jail for 14 days. All staff and inmates who were in the intake area of the jail or in the quarantined section of the jail were required to wear masks.
Cloth masks were given (and continue to be given) to every inmate and staff member, and they were each given the option to wear them after the quarantine period ended. Based on the guideline that contact with another person doesn’t constitute exposure unless you are within six feet of another person for 15 minutes, neither the staff nor the inmates were required to wear masks outside of the aforementioned areas because this type of close, prolonged contact seldom, if ever, occurs there. In essence, the staff and inmates are socially distanced from each other.
This system proved to be very effective as between March 1 and Oct 27 there have been 3,066 people booked into the jail. The daily population during that time has ranged from 111 to 270, currently sitting at 243. No inmates tested positive for Covid-19 until recently. Although four inmates testing positive is a very small percentage of our population, we felt it best to increase our safety protocols in an effort to keep the jail population as safe as possible. This is why all staff and inmates are now being required to wear masks even when they are socially distanced from one another, and why we have instituted the “rolling lockdowns.”
The Sheriff’s Office has been working with the Black Hawk County Health Department and Naphcare, the jail’s medical provider, throughout this pandemic to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible while still maintaining the inmates’ rights. The public can rest assured that we will continue to do so as we move forward.”
Captain Nathan Neff
Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office
Original story (10:46 a.m.):
BLACK HAWK COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) — The Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office is implementing safety protocols after multiple inmates at the jail tested positive for COVID-19.
Four inmates tested positive for the virus according to Sheriff Tony Thompson. One inmate was in the general population and the other three were recent arrivals at the jail and were going through the standard 14 days of isolation for incoming inmates. Test results came back last week and all four inmates remain in the jail.
“It’s not an outbreak, it’s just a concern,” Thompson said, adding that the 4 positives make up about 1% of the jail’s population.
Jail staff have implemented rolling lockdowns to keep half of the inmates within a pod at a given time to cut down on contact and allow more time for cleaning. Half of the inmates are given access outside of their cells while the other half remain in their cells. The facility is then cleaned and then the inmates switch.
“It allows for more social distancing space. It allows for more cleaning time and it also allows for, if we do have a problem, fewer people that we have to contact trace, fewer people that have been interacted with,” Thompson said.
The general population inmate that tested positive has been placed in isolation and officials are awaiting a follow-up test to confirm the results. A general population inmate tested positive earlier in the pandemic, but a follow-up test determined it was a false positive.
When test results came back last week, visitations were put on pause and jail officials had planned to do so for 14 days. The sheriff’s office backed off from that decision on Monday once they were able to collaborate with the county’s health department for best practices. Visitations resumed on Tuesday.
Masks are mandatory for staff and inmates are required to wear masks when they’re outside of their cells. Staff will be only working with a specific group as Thompson worries that an asymptomatic staff member could have brought in the virus. While staff are tempted and screened before each shift, those protocols don’t catch an asymptomatic case.
Later in the week, rapid testing equipment will arrive at the jail which will allow for more frequent and active testing of inmates as well as staff.