Last week, officials confirmed that COVID-19 had entered the Howard County jail.
Howard County Jail Commander Capt. Robin Byers said there was a single positive case within the jail, and she said that the jail had entered a lockdown stage until the extent of the virus is fully known. As of Nov. 12, there was only a single case, but Byers said that the jail took a head-on approach by locking the jail down as soon as the case was confirmed to prevent further spread among inmates and jail employees.
“Once we got the confirmation, he’d been quarantined just prior to that. But you got to go back three to five days. So what we’re doing right now as a precautionary measure is we have put the entire jail in quarantine until we can find out what’s going on. Until we can confirm if there’s any more, we’re going to try to prevent any further issues. We are doing, gosh, a lot of stuff ... One case could blow up.”
Byers referenced another Indiana jail that had four cases of COVID-19 within its walls that soon exploded into 78 confirmed cases, an outbreak that she said the jail is attempting to avoid. She added that each inmate who was in the same unit as the positive case was being tested and quarantined. She said jails across the state have been seeing confirmed cases that lead to larger, more alarming outbreaks.
According to Byers, the jail implemented stringent preventive measures aimed at lowering the risk of COVID-19 among inmates and employees, such as mask-wearing and regular cleaning, with “backpack sprayers” disinfecting the facility as often as three times a day. Jail officials also limited movement within separate units, noting that inmates will only leave their respective units for court detail or medical treatment.
Although only one case has been confirmed so far, Byers said that jail officials will treat the situation as if every inmate has a confirmed case in an attempt to broach the situation head-on.
“We’re going to hit this head-on, and we’re going to put the entire jail into lockdown. And we’re attempting to contact the state,” Byers said.
Last spring, Howard County jail released a number of inmates in an effort to reduce the chance of COVID-19 spreading through the jail. One hundred inmates were released, bringing the population in the facility down to 363. However, in September, the jail population saw numbers that were nearing pre-COVID-19 highs with 429 inmates in the jail that month.
Byers said the single case had not been in contact with the female wing and that no female inmates tested positive for the virus.
The jail-wide quarantine, Byers said, was to get an understanding of who the inmate that tested positive had come into contact with and to determine the extent of the spread.