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Outbreak at the Dane County Jail and other COVID-19 updates

Outbreak at the Dane County Jail and other COVID-19 updates

Public Safety Building (copy)

Jail officials reported a COVID-19 outbreak this week at the jail facility in the Public Safety Building. 

The Dane County Jail is seeing its first significant COVID-19 outbreak since last spring, with 38 active cases at the facility at the Public Safety Building.

On Wednesday, 16 inmates in the Public Safety Building’s inmate receiving facility tested positive for the virus, and later several inmates in a male housing unit started showing symptom of the disease, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Elise Schaffer.

All have only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

Schaffer said Sheriff Dave Mahoney is working with “justice partners” to release as many of the infected inmates as possible because the jail was not designed to facilitate social distancing.

So far, there have been a total of 115 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in March, but only one other significant outbreak.

In May, the jail reported that a single inmate had infected 32 fellow prisoners. He reportedly had masked his symptoms because he didn’t want to be put in isolation.

“That's really been the only two,” Schaffer said of the outbreaks. “Otherwise our numbers have been very low.”

The Public Safety Building currently houses 252 inmates, with 236 others at the Ferris work release center on Madison’s south side and in the jail facility in the City-County Building.

Dane County as a whole reported 160 new cases on Wednesday, down from 476 the previous day and its lowest daily total in nearly a month. Just six days ago the county reported a record 700 cases. The seven-day average stands at about 430, down about 50 from three days ago.

But the county also reported a record 179 COVID-19 inpatients, with 46 of those in intensive care. Hospital officials have reported the addition of several ICU beds in recent to keep up with demand. 

But staffing has been even more of challenge. According to the latest data available on the Department of Health Services COVID-19 dashboard, 627 healthcare workers in the state had tested positive or experienced symptoms of infection. The previous week, 1,090 health care workers were sidelined. 

A significant portion of Dane County’s COVID-19 cases are coming from UW students. The school enjoyed a relatively quiet October after getting a handle on an alarming outbreak at the start of the school year. But the seven-day average has crept up to 74.

The state on Thursday reported 6,440 new cases, well down from the nearly 8,000 cases on Wednesday. But there was a high number of deaths, 83, the second-highest total yet.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.

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