• 66°

20 regional jail inmates test positive

SUFFOLK

Twenty inmates at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk have tested positive for COVID-19, the jail announced Friday.

According to jail superintendent Col. William Smith, staff were notified that a single inmate had tested positive on Sept. 10 — the jail’s first positive test in an inmate since the start of the pandemic six months ago. Additional testing on inmates who had come into contact with the infected individual revealed an additional 19 positive results.

At this point, only two of the positive inmates are symptomatic, Smith stated in a press release Friday.

The Virginia Department of Health is now reporting three COVID-19 outbreaks tied to correctional facilities in the Western Tidewater Health District — an area that includes Franklin, Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton.

Smith had previously told the paper on Sept. 9 that as of that date, a total of five staff members had tested positive for the virus over the past six months, of which only two are still out of work because of positive results. If a staff member tests positive, he said, jail staff will test other employees and inmates who were in close contact with that person.

All incoming inmates are screened and isolated,” Smith said. “If they are symptomatic, they are immediately tested and remain isolated until the results are received.”

All inmates and staff must wear face masks while inside the facility, and anyone who enters the building is also required to wear a mask and be screened for symptoms, he added.

Despite the best efforts of the regional jail staff, on September 10, 2020 we were notified that an inmate in our facility had tested positive,” Smith said on Sept. 11. “Appropriate measures in accordance with the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] have been taken to quarantine all positive and exposed inmates.”

Other correctional facilities in the Western Tidewater area have also had outbreaks.

In early July, the Virginia Department of Corrections reported 78 cases of the virus among inmates and another three cases among staff at Deerfield Correctional a state prison located near Capron in Southampton County. As of Sept. 9, the number of infected employees had risen to 18 and the number of infected inmates had ballooned to 376, accounting for more than a quarter of the prison’s inmate population. Of these, 286 positive inmates remain incarcerated on-site. A disclaimer on the Department of Corrections website states the 376 figure includes those on-site, in a hospital, deaths, recoveries and those who have been released or transferred. Two Deerfield inmates have died, a figure that’s increased by one since July.

Health Department COVID-19 data broken down by ZIP code indicated only 116 confirmed positive cases as of Sept. 10 in the entire geographic area where the prison is located. But according to Health District Director Dr. Todd Wagner, Capron may soon see a spike in reported cases.

As testing capacity increases with new laboratories being approved for COVID-19 testing, there can be a delay in building the reporting interface with the electronic database,” Wagner said. “In these instances, paper reports are used to report positive and negative results to public health to meet the reporting requirement. These paper reports have to be manually entered into our database before being counted as cases. The numbers shown on the DOC website and those on the VDH public dashboard will mirror one another once the paper reports are entered into our database.”

There are only three correctional centers in the Western Tidewater Health District, the last of which is the Southampton County Jail and Jail Farm. But according to Maj. Camden Cobb, a spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, there are currently no confirmed positive cases among inmates and only one staff member has tested positive. That employee had not had direct contact with any other staff member in over a week before testing positive, he said.

We maintain one block and two single cells as quarantine areas for new arrestees to be monitored for a minimum of 14 days before they can be moved to other blocks in the jail,” Cobb said. “All inmates and staff have face masks.”

The Department of Health requires two or more confirmed cases at a site before it will classify that location as an outbreak.

Wagner previously told the paper that it is theoretically possible for two separate outbreaks to be tied to the same facility if the Department of Health had declared the first outbreak closed following two incubation periods without new cases.

According to Gregory Carter, deputy director of communications for the Department of Corrections, the complex at Deerfield consists of three facilities, the correctional center itself and two work centers, one for men and another for women.

I spoke with the assistant warden today and she confirms that all of the COVID-19 positive cases at Deerfield are in the main Correctional Center and not in the work centers,” Carter said. “So Deerfield should be counted as one correctional facility.”

But Carter didn’t say whether Deerfield had received any communications from the health department indicating the initial outbreak of 51 cases it had reported in April was ever deemed closed.