Sheriff confirms 40 cases of COVID-19 inside jail

By RICK NORTON
Posted 6/24/20

While penal institutions across Tennessee — state prisons and county jails alike — grappling with how to keep COVID-19 infections out of their facilities, the Bradley County lockup now finds …

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Sheriff confirms 40 cases of COVID-19 inside jail

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While penal institutions across Tennessee — state prisons and county jails alike — grappling with how to keep COVID-19 infections out of their facilities, the Bradley County lockup now finds itself among the many whose walls have been breached.

In an announcement Tuesday, Sheriff Steve Lawson confirmed testing for the coronavirus had returned 32 asymptomatic positive results among the county jail's inmates, seven positives among corrections officers and one in a contracted employee.

In the case of COVID-19, asymptomatic refers to a person who has tested positive for the virus, but for the time being has not shown any of the traditional symptoms like fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

Officials reported the local jail's first confirmed cases on June 10 when two correctional officers tested asymptomatic positive for the virus, according to Taylor Woodruff, BCSO public information officer.

Since that time, jail administrators have worked closely with health officials to offer testing to all inmates and justice center workers. That testing has now been completed, leading to the COVID-19 positive results announced Tuesday.

The seven corrections officers and one contracted employee testing positive will remain on medical leave until they have recovered and return with a negative COVID-19 test, Woodruff explained.

"These tests were conducted on June 17, with 32 asymptomatic positive cases confirmed, meaning that at the time of the testing, none had a fever or showed any symptoms," Woodruff said. "The inmates who tested positive have been reassigned to a designated pod for quarantine and are being monitored by the jail's medical staff."

Woodruff pointed out BCSO and jail administrators have continued to work closely with Quality Correctional Health Care to offer COVID-19 testing to all inmates.

In repeating his commitment to the safety and well-being of his employees, as well as to Bradley County Jail inmates and workers, Lawson suggested this type of infection spread was most likely inevitable, in spite of the precautions taken by jail staff that included a lockdown on visitations, as well as strict safety protocol in the justice center's practices and policies.

"Given the circumstances, I believe that we prevented the spread of this virus in our jail as long as we possibly could have," Lawson said. "After the first corrections officer tested positive, it was only right for us to offer testing to each and everyone of our inmates."

The jail's medical staff will continue to screen all incoming inmates and will administer COVID-19 tests to any inmates who show symptoms, Lawson said. A mandatory PPE (personal protective equipment) policy continues to be in effect for any employees who enter the jail and regular cleanings will remain on an ongoing schedule, the sheriff added.

"Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have taken every precaution that our resources would allow," Lawson noted. "Although the virus has begun presenting itself in our jail, we will continue to do everything we can to proactively slow the spread and protect the health of our employees and inmates."

According to COVID-19 data from the Tennessee Department of Corrections, as of June 17, a statewide testing program in state penal institutions had revealed 87 positive test results in 16 facilities. However, before the state testing program got underway infection outbreaks had been reported in facilities in Bledsoe County and Lake County, among others like the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Middle Tennessee.

Although recent state testing surfaced the 87 positives, it also showed 19,827 negative test results, according to TDOC data.

In the Bradley County community, Tennessee Department of Health data — as of Tuesday — shows 393 total cases of COVID-19, which is an increase of 44 since Monday.

Of those cases, 256 have recovered, which is an increase of seven over the day before. With three confirmed deaths in Bradley County, there are now 134 active cases which is an increase of 37 over Monday.

Since testing first began in Bradley County, TDH reports a total of 5,438 negatives.

Statewide, Tennessee health officials — as of Tuesday — are reporting 36,303 COVID-19 cases. That number includes 24,068 recoveries and 542 deaths. Since testing began statewide, some 705,164 tests have been administered.

In neighboring Hamilton County, whose rising numbers are causing some to label it a new hotspot, health officials on Tuesday confirmed 2,120 cases, with 1,182 of those having recovered and 28 deaths.

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