Okanogan County has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the county jail, among both inmates and staff.
Twelve inmates in the Okanogan County jail have tested positive for COVID this month. Eleven positive tests were reported to the Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, Dec. 8, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said in a press release. In addition, four staff members tested positive.
After an inmate first developed COVID symptoms, Okanogan County Public Health and LifeLine Ambulance conducted tests of possible contacts on Dec. 3. The inmate who had symptoms was immediately isolated and the jail followed quarantine protocols, Hawley said.
Jail staff identified a total of 23 inmates, in two separate living areas, who may have had contact with the inmate or a staff member who fell ill. Of the 23 tested, there were 11 positives, but only the one inmate — who was symptom-free when booked — developed symptoms, Hawley said.
After the initial testing, Public Health offered tests to other inmates, and 22 of the 87 inmates at the jail agreed to be tested. That produced the 12th positive case on Dec. 9, according to Undersheriff Aaron Culp. Because that inmate had been segregated based on booking classification, jail staff believe the risk of transmission to other inmates or staff is negligible, he said. That individual has also shown no symptoms.
The 11 inmates who initially tested positive are past their 14-day isolation period and now presumed to be negative, Culp said.
In coordination with Public Health, all four staff members who tested positive were isolated. Other staff members at risk for exposure were also quarantined and tested. All four jail staffers who tested positive for COVID-19 have already recovered and are back at work.
Since the COVID threat was identified in March, the Sheriff’s Office has restricted the booking criteria for new arrests to limit the risk of COVID, Hawley said. The office also developed guidelines with Public Health to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for inmates, staff and others they interact with in the criminal justice system.
The guidelines include screening all individuals who enter the jail (including new arrestees, inmates, jail staff and law enforcement) for symptoms and possible COVID exposure, Hawley said. Staff have been monitored throughout the pandemic and some have had to quarantine after potential exposure. People must wear masks in the jail.
Jail staff are working with Public Health to do contact tracing for individuals recently released from the jail who may have had contact with inmates who were positive for COVID-19, Hawley said.