CORONAVIRUS

Linn County Jail reports 30 virus cases so far among inmates and staff

Smaller Johnson County Jail COVID-free for 8 months

The Linn County Correctional Center is shown on May's Island in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The Linn County Correctional Center is shown on May’s Island in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Since the start of the virus, 15 inmates and 15 staffers at the Linn County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, the sheriff said Thursday.

As of Thursday, 12 inmates were in medical isolation, and 12 deputies were self-isolating at home. Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said.

“We’re taking this as seriously now as we did back in March,” he said. “We’re testing inmates on a daily basis as circumstances dictate and doing the best we can to screen out possible incoming cases and keep them separate from the rest of the jail populations.”

The Johnson County Jail, to date, has had no virus cases confirmed, Sheriff-elect Brad Kunkel said.

But four deputies working in the sheriff’s office have tested positive, he said.

Kunkel attributed the jail’s zero cases to “the screening measures we put in place and the diligent work the jail staff puts in every day.”

Last week, Gardner said two Linn County inmates tested positive for the virus though neither had symptoms. The two were housed in a dormitory-style cellblock on the jail’s second floor.

“We quarantined the entire block,” Gardner said. “We tested all of those inmates who were in that dormitory, and we ended up with a total of six inmates that tested positive, and so we moved them immediately onto a medical isolation block.”

Six more inmates tested positive Wednesday week and were in medical isolation. Test results for other inmates are pending.

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Kunkel said the Johnson County Jail has tested 26 of its 30 inmates and 25 have come back negative. The result of the 26th test is pending.

The close quarters in jails and penitentiaries make them susceptible to the virus spreading.

The sheriff’s office, police departments and courts in Linn County are now issuing summonses for low-level crimes, rather than arresting suspects and jailing them.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, 333 inmates were at the jail, which has 401 beds.

The Johnson County Jail on Thursday had 30 inmates, with 19 inmates housed in other regional facilities. With double-bunking, it has room for 92 beds, Kunkel said.

In Linn County, incoming inmates are screened for symptoms and possible exposure to COVID-19. Anyone who has COVID-19 or symptoms is kept separate from the rest of the jail population, Gardner said.

The jail is providing masks to inmates and strongly encouraging their use, though they are not required, he said.

In Johnson County, Kunkel said incoming inmates are screened and quarantined for 10 days before they are moved into the general population. Additionally, Kunkel said every inmate is screened every day for fever.

But Kunkel said the best way to avoid an outbreak is keeping suspects out of jail.

“The courts have assisted us with protocols to speed up the processes for initial appearances and (the court system) is using GPS-Home monitoring for sentences whenever possible,” Kunkel said.

Both jails provide hand sanitizer, paper towels and cleaning solution, and inmates are expected to keep their areas clean. Inmates are also encouraged to socially distance, to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces.

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As for the staff, both sheriff’s offices screen each staff member for fever at the start of shifts. Masks are required at all times. Any staff member who is not feeling well, showing symptoms or testing positive is required to stay home.

“We know that we’re far from over with this disease,” Gardner said.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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