CHICAGO (CBS) — Seventeen detainees and four employees have now tested positive for COVID-19 at the Cook County Jail. One sheriff’s police officer also tested positive. That’s up from just one guard over the weekend.
Now new detainees are put in a separate holding area for seven days to be watched for symptoms. Then if it’s positive, depending on the severity, they’re taken to separate barracks a half mile away.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office announced today they’ll be transporting confirmed/potential #COVID19 detainees to a separate facility
— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) March 26, 2020
“This had been a place we had all the mentally ill folks out here,” said Sheriff Tom Dart.
But those mental health programs at Cook County Jail have now downsized and moved away to make room for more than 500 beds for detainees who have or might have COVID-19.
It’s a shift from even last week when the jail had no cases, and they were trying to keep it that way. But by Sunday one correctional officer tested positive. Three days later that number grew to six detainees and three staff members.
“It’s not like a college where you can send everyone home. It’s not like a cruise ship where you can disembark people,” Dart said.
And there’s a lot of foot traffic on an average day. Dart said the jail sees more than 100 detainees coming in and out.
Detainees coming out get tested before they can leave, which the sheriff says is a relative first in the country.
“No other jurisdiction we saw is testing people on their way out the door,” he said.
Dart adds that these are measures every jail needs to be thinking about because not only do correctional officers go home to their families in the community but also so do some of the detainees.
“Eighty-five percent of the people that are in this jail go straight from jail back to the community. Some days, some weeks, some months. If they’re sick, guess what — they’re infecting the community they’re going back to,” Dart said.
Some detainees could be occupying the quarantine and isolation space as soon as Wednesday night.
As for correctional officers, any of them who are showing symptoms immediately get tested and asked not to come to work.
As of Wednesday, 50 detainees had been tested. Of those, 17 tested positive, two tested negative and 31 results were pending.