Jails take steps to keep COVID-19 at bayBy Kevin Beese Staff Reporter — April 13, 2020
The Lake County Jail is operating at 60 percent capacity, while the Kane County Jail is holding 130 fewer detainees than it did a month ago.
And neither had yet to have a detainee or correctional employee test positive for the coronavirus as of Friday.
On the flip side, two Cook County Jail detainees had died from COVID-19 and 276 detainees had tested positive for the virus as of Friday; and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office was testing up to 100 jail employees a day at a mobile COVID-19 testing site. Sheriff Tom Dart said the additional testing facility was aimed at reducing the spread of the virus among staff and detainees at the jail.
Jails throughout the region continue to take steps to limit their jail population and sheriff’s department employees’ exposure to the coronavirus.
“We have been learning COVID-19 is a virus that thrives when people are in close proximity to one another. Unfortunately, this means the jail is an ideal place for the virus to quickly spread to inmates and correctional officers,” said Sgt. Chris Covelli of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said lessening the number of detainees, increased sanitization and social distancing steps have helped keep his staff and the jail population with no indications or positive tests for COVID-19.
Hain said surfaces at the Kane correctional facility are cleaned no less frequently than every two hours, and more than 1,000 bars of soap were given to detainees for increased self-care. A cellblock was created as an incoming quarantine area, where detainees are held for observation for up to four weeks before being placed in the general jail population.
Covelli said that equally aggressive precautions have been taken since February to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading in the Lake County Jail.
He said the Sheriff’s Office has heightened screening procedures; increased cleaning and sanitation; developed a quarantine area for new detainees and those who develop symptoms, including the use of isolation cells with reverse airflow technology; and worked with criminal justice partners to reduce the jail population.
“This is a health crisis that is changing every hour and we are adapting, planning and executing contingency plans,” Covelli said. “We will continue to use every tool within our legal authority to keep sheriff’s staff and inmates safe.”
Both Lake and Kane officials credited reducing the detainee population as key in fighting the virus. Lake County Jail, as of Friday, had 448 detainees — far from its capacity of 740.
Kane County Jail went from 491 detainees the week of March 8 to 361 as of Friday.
Both counties identified nonviolent detainees and released them on either electronic monitoring or recognizance bonds.
Covelli said after reviewing data, 40 nonviolent Lake County detainees who do not pose a flight risk and had less than 45 days remaining on their sentence were brought before judges for consideration of reduced sentences, and subsequently released.
“We will not recommend any inmates to the court for release who have been convicted of violent offenses,” Covelli said. “Those who had their sentence reduced consist of non-aggravating crimes … Those released are still accountable to the terms of their probation.”
The DeKalb County Jail puts new detainees into a 14-day isolation before putting them into the general population. Corrections deputies wear N95 masks when booking and interacting with new detainees and have provided facial coverings to all individuals being held in custody.
Like the other jails outside Cook County, the DeKalb County Jail was coronavirus-free as of Friday.
Joyce Klein, chief of corrections for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, said that back in mid-February the department began asking COVID-19-related questions at booking and sanitizing the booking area frequently.
“We established contact with the (DeKalb County) Health Department and put in place a procedure for staff on when and how to contact the Health Department if an arrestee brought in has COVID symptoms,” Klein said. “Bail-reform procedures that started in 2017 have been reducing jail population and our expanded jail has made it possible for us to isolate inmates.”
The Woodford County Jail also had no detainee or correctional employee test positive for COVID-19 as of Friday, according to Chief Deputy Dennis Tipsword of the Woodford County Sheriff’s Department.
Kendall County’s jail facility was also free from COVID-19 cases in detainees and staff as of Friday, according to Deputy Dan Briars.
He said the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office has taken a number of steps to mitigate the risk of the coronavirus, including following recommendations from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Kendall County Health Department to institute best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“We have suspended tours of the facility and are utilizing personal protective equipment within the facility,” Briars said. “Upon initial entry to the facility, inmates are screened by medical staff prior to having contact with other inmates.”
Along with ensuring safety at its jail, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office said it is also working with the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office and Health Department to mitigate issues with businesses who may not be operating within Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders.
“We have not experienced a pandemic and governmental response to this magnitude in our lives before, but we remain fully staffed, well supported and agile to address whatever new challenges each day brings,” Kane Sheriff Hain said.
Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg said his department will still arrest people despite trying to limit detainees in the jail.
“While we are working hard to stop the spread of COVID-19, we will not hesitate to arrest those violating the law,” Idleburg said.
Addressing its jail’s COVID numbers, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said that as of Friday 219 of the 276 detainees who tested positive were being treated and monitored by Cermak Health Services, a division of Cook County Health and Hospitals System for mild to moderate symptoms. Thirty-six detainees had been moved to a recovery facility. Twenty-one detainees, including the second of the facility’s detainees to die for the coronavirus, were being treated at local hospitals.
“Everything sheriff’s officers and county medical professionals have done since before the virus started spreading in the Chicago area was in an effort to prevent the loss of life to this deadly virus,” the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “We will continue to work round the clock to aggressively combat the spread of COVID-19.”
Working with The New Roseland Community Hospital, the Sheriff’s Office’s mobile COVID-19 testing site can have test results available within 24 to 48 hours.
“Our brave staff are on the frontlines of this global pandemic,” Cook Sheriff Dart said. “This testing site provides answers for them.”
“Despite our never-ending lack of funding, we are on the frontlines of the fight to flatten the curve,” said Tim Egan, New Roseland Community Hospital president & CEO. “We are proud to provide this service … .”
Dart said other initiatives his department has undertaken have included the early screening and the testing of detainees; the creation of an off-site, 500-bed quarantine and care facility for detainees; and increasing access to sanitation supplies.
He said Sheriff’s Office frontline staff receive personal protective equipment and supervisors take each staff member’s temperature prior to starting his or her shift. All staff are encouraged to self-monitor for symptoms, consult with their physician, and not report to work if they feel ill, Dart said.
He added that staff are urged to inform their supervisor if they become ill while at work, and to leave and seek medical attention.