After a Pinellas County jail detention deputy tested positive for coronavirus, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the county is still taking necessary precautions to prevent any possible spread among jail inmates or deputies.
An employee of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on Saturday. Gualtieri said the employee had not been to work since March 19. Even so, the sheriff’s office is working to prevent the spread of the virus by isolating new inmates and reducing bookings, he said.
This is the first reported positive COVID-19 case among jails in the Tampa Bay region.
A Florida Department of Health investigation showed there were two days where the deputy could have come into contact with others, and the jail has since assessed all inmates who could have been exposed. No one fell ill during that time, and the 14-day window when symptoms could appear has since passed, according to the sheriff’s office.
Gualtieri said there were likely about 40 inmates who were screened by jail medical staff on Saturday.
To reduce the risk, Gualtieri said the sheriff’s office has been working to release inmates and book fewer people into jail. The inmate population is down by about 1,100 people, and daily bookings went from 130 people a day to about 30, he said. Still, there is national concern about jails becoming a point of infection because of how frequently people come in, bond out, and then go about their lives in the community.
But Gualtieri said in Pinellas, they’ve created a “wall” that reduces the risk.
When a new inmate is booked, they are put in an isolation wing and monitored for symptoms for 14 days before they can go to a general housing unit, he said. If they show symptoms, they’re moved to another isolation wing. Before the coronavirus outbreak, a new inmate would be moved into a housing unit immediately.
“I can’t speak to the concerns that are being raised about other jails in Florida or the country, but I can tell you our process here is creating a wall between the people who are coming in and the people who are already there,” he said.
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