JACKSON, Mich. — Officials are saying it's the biggest COVID-19 outbreak they’ve seen in Jackson County Jail. As of Friday, 52 inmates had contracted the disease.
At the Chanter Road facility, 34 inmates have COVID, and 18 inmates tested positive at the Wesley Street facility.
“We’re getting about 80 percent of the inmates with some symptoms. A couple of them have been severe. They have been treated and released and are now back at the Chanter Road facility,” Jackson County Sheriff Gary Schuette said.
Now, they are acting quickly to try to mitigate the outbreak.
Schuette said they’re looking at 111 of the 198 inmates either in quarantine for exposure or actually exposed and being treated for the symptoms.
"We have 62 in quarantine right now. Which means that they’re are all in a cell and they can’t be mixed in with people who are positive for it and they can’t be mixed in with people who don’t test positive for it,” Schuette said.
Two law enforcement officers also tested positive for COVID. A guard, who was vaccinated, tested positive as well as a sergeant who officials believe contracted the virus off-duty.
Nurses are working longer hours to help the recovery process. Schuette says inmates are receiving near round-the-clock treatment.
There are two possibilities as to how this outbreak started according to officials. One is through the mail.
Schuette said corrections deputies discovered a plot by inmates to contract COVID under the belief they would be released from jail.
“The way they were trying to do that was asking people who were COVID infected to send them a licked piece of paper or something to that effect in the mail, so when they receive the mail they would then in turn lick it and get the COVID ,” Schuette said.
So far, there have been no inmates who have been released for contracting the virus. According to officials at the Jackson County Health Department, it is possible that could have been the reason.
“Just going on the idea that it was possible, we eliminated mail coming into the facility only to postcards. Then when we receive the postcards we photocopy them and the inmates get a photocopy of the postcard to eliminate that threat,” Schuette said.
The other idea, which Schuette believes may be more plausible, is that it came through the food service workers.
“The first four inmates that tested positive for COVID were, in fact, our trustees that handle the food. Once they handle the food, they then disseminated the food to the various cells so that kind of gives us a good idea and a good tracking as to how it was spread and why it was spread so rapidly,” Schuette said.
They plan on ramping up testing for food service workers to combat the spread of the coronavirus and potentially avoid a repeat of this.
“A couple of things have happened but we've been able to stay on top of it. We feel pretty good about it,” Schuette said.
Jackson County overall is experiencing a decline in COVID-19 cases. The daily positive test rate is at 9.4 percent with a 7-day average of 8.4 percent.
Recently Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Michigan had “bent” the curve. The state Department of Health and Human Services is loosening the mask mandate statewide for people who are fully vaccinated.
To be fully vaccinated, you must be two weeks out from your final dose. The order will be lifted Saturday at 9 a.m.
“This is a huge step on our path back to normal that we’re able to take thanks to the vast majority of Michiganders who have gotten vaccinated that have stepped up to protect our communities,” Whitmer said. “Our north star has been data and science from our CDC and public health professionals and we are going to continue to listen and trust the experts.”
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