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Sullivan officials taking steps to prevent COVID-19 at county jail

J. H. Osborne • Mar 18, 2020 at 7:30 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A sort of automatic quarantine site or an incubator? Sullivan County’s jail facilities, long overcrowded, held 825 inmates as of Tuesday afternoon, Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy told the Times News. That’s more than 200 inmates over capacity.

The Times News first spoke with Cassidy and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable about the jail and the threat of an outbreak of COVID-19 among inmates on Monday afternoon. Both said steps already were being taken to protect against that as best as can be done, and there are more steps coming. It was Venable who observed that being confined to jail might seem like a sort of quarantine, if inmates had no contact at all with the outside world — but like jails and prisons across the nation, the close quarters and introduction of new prisoners could make the county’s two jail facilities become incubators for the virus.

Cassidy said screening new intakes is a priority and that he ultimately would like to have a separate holding area in which to keep incoming inmates for 14 days. Venable told the Times News he agreed with that approach. In the meantime, Cassidy shared protocols his department developed and already implemented: the three-part “SCSO Covid-19 Management Plan.” It addresses preventative actions, medical issues and post exposure response. Preventative recommendations in the plan are in addition to already upgraded daily cleaning routines and self prevention precautions. The jail ended visitations last week, except from attorneys meeting with inmates when necessary. Cassidy said Tuesday discussions were underway to also begin limiting any visitors in administrative areas of the building.

From the plan’s actions for jail operations:

Extra sanitation process

• All officers are to clean/sanitize the booking area and guard stations including counter tops, phones, keyboards, mouse, and door knobs, etc. at the beginning of each shift allowing all surfaces to dry the recommended time per cleaning agent. This should be the first task completed on every shift.

Education

• Officers are to review the Covid-19 information form for information regarding symptoms, risk and prevention. It is essential that we are aware of ongoing updates to clinical guidelines. As new information becomes available, we will distribute.

• CDC hygiene information video has been uploaded to all KIOSK in housing units. Inmates must review before proceeding to other KIOSK tasks.

• Remedial training regarding hygiene practices will be reinforced for all trustees.

Inmate booking temperature screening

• All inmates will have temperature taken during the intake process by the booking officer outside the facility before entering.

• If the temperature is greater than 100 degrees, the inmate is to remain outside the facility and contact medical, who will then provide additional screening.

• There are two thermometers that must be returned back to their designated location in booking and guard station A. All supervisors are to confirm both thermometers are counted prior to leaving their shift. Thermometers are to be held between 3-5 centimeters away from the inmate's forehead and push the trigger button.

Segregation

• The ability to segregate as needed is an especially challenging barrier to the current facility and situation. Officers are urged to be aware of the possible immediate need for segregation and plan accordingly.

From the plan’s actions for sheriff’s office and patrol operations:

Patrol, K-9, SROs

• All patrol units will limit face-to-face contact as much as possible.

• Patrol units should take reports via the telephone when possible.

• When responding is necessary, officers should maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.

• Handle calls without going inside homes when possible.

• All misdemeanor charges will be made through citations or acquiring summons except when the law requires an arrest (such as when it causes risk or extreme danger to the public, such as domestic violence assaults, DUI etc.).

• Sullivan County will not take custody of anyone with misdemeanor warrants from other agencies.

CID, special operations

• All CID units will limit face-to-face contact as much as possible.

• Casework should be limited to telephone calls as much as possible.

• When face-to-face contact is necessary, detectives should maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.

• The department is attempting to secure personal protective equipment for all officers to include disposable gloves,N-95 masks, eye protection and disinfectant for duty gear.

Courts/process

• All courts and process units will limit face-to-face contact as much as possible.

• Courts have been shut down temporarily, however, the courthouses are still open and must have security as well as court business. When not in court, the officers will assist patrol and adhere to the protocols above.

• The SCSO has suspended serving process except for emergency type papers in order to limit contact.

• Process units will adhere to the same protocols as patrol.

• The department is attempting to secure personal protective equipment for all officers to include disposable gloves,N-95 masks, eye protection and disinfectant for duty gear.

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