Two inmates at the Dane County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, and results are pending for six other inmates with fevers who are being isolated, the Sheriff’s Office said Thursday night.
The two inmates who tested positive were isolated with the six others earlier Thursday after they all presented fevers, Dane County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Elise Schaffer said.
Nine more inmates who had contact with some of the eight also have been removed from the general population as a precaution, but none of those nine were exhibiting any symptoms, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Also Thursday, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections announced that a worker at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. It is the fourth confirmed case of an employee with COVID-19 in the state’s prison system. The detention facility has been put on lockdown.
On Monday, DOC halted new prison admissions in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into the state’s prisons. But now inmates who would have been transferred to prison are staying in county jails, putting extra stress on the county facilities.
The Dane County Jail has been taking action to reduce the chances that COVID-19 will take hold in the jail. The jail’s population stood Thursday at 549 inmates in the county’s three facilities — the Ferris Center, the Public Safety Building and the City-County Building. On March 10, the jail’s population was 746.
Another 74 people are on GPS monitoring at home.
“Sheriff David Mahoney is working quickly to identify any additional inmates who can be safely released and/or placed on GPS monitoring,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Thursday night. “High priority will be given to the older population or those with underlying medical conditions.”
Jail and medical staff are continuing to follow protocols consistent with recommendations from county public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sheriff’s Office said, adding, “Deputies are being vigilant in identifying anyone displaying symptoms and alerting medical staff immediately.”
The jail said the eight who presented with fevers were placed in segregation cells at the Public Safety Building. The testing for COVID-19 is being coordinated by jail medical staff, Schaffer said. The other nine are being housed in a dormitory in the jail.
The reports of two positive cases and others with symptoms comes as lawyers for several inmates in jail awaiting trials because they can’t post cash bail have filed motions to have them released over fears surrounding the respiratory disease.
Three state Department of Corrections employees have been found to be infected with COVID-19, including two who work in prisons.
In a motion submitted earlier this week on behalf on Kejuan Hill, 22, who is charged with the random attack of a woman last month at a McDonald’s restaurant, state Assistant Public Defender Laura Breun said jails are ideal for the spread of a virus like COVID-19 because they have many people living in shared, close quarters. She also cited “jail churn” — the movement in and out of the facility of new inmates who could bring new exposure to the virus into the jail.
“There is no effective way for the Dane County Jail to create social distancing,” Breun wrote.
John Smerlinski, the lawyer for Leearthur Taylor, 34, charged with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide in the September shooting death of Malik Moss, 19, is also seeking reduction or elimination of Taylor’s $500,000 cash bail based on the coronavirus pandemic and conditions for the potential spread in jails.
“Conditions of pretrial confinement create the ideal environment for the transmission of contagious disease,” Smerlinski wrote.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office announced it had brought ultraviolet ray emitters, like those used in hospitals, to kill viruses in the air and on surfaces. The two emitters are on loan to the jail.
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