The Rock County Jail continues to battle a COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Tuesday, 19 inmates of the Rock County Jail were isolated after testing positive for the disease, said Capt. Kim Litsheim, assistant jail administrator.
Their symptoms are minor, Litsheim said, and none of the inmates has required hospitalization or transfer to the jail’s medical unit.
The jail had seen few case in recent months, but tests on Aug. 20 detected 10 positive cases. Some of those inmates have since been released.
The total number of positive cases since Aug. 20 is 27, including the initial 10, Litsheim said.
Twenty-five inmates were quarantined as of Tuesday because they had been in close contact with an infected person, Litsheim said.
Litsheim said inmates had been moved to different units to free up units as quarantine space.
“I foresee this is something we’re going to be in for the long haul,” Litsheim said.
Jail administrators monitor COVID-19 hospitalizations, and a worsening of that situation could prompt more changes at the jail, Litsheim said.
Officials had kept the jail at less than half of its capacity during much of the pandemic, but about two months ago, with concern easing, the jail began keeping inmates who previously had been released with court dates or quarantined in their homes with monitoring anklets.
The change increased the jail population from 212 to numbers hovering near 300. That’s still well below capacity, which is around 500.
The jail continues to offer vaccinations to inmates, with 21 vaccinated on Tuesday, Litsheim said. The free clinic HealthNet of Rock County has been providing the inoculations.
The Gazette reviewed a small amount of surveillance video from the jail last week and saw some correctional officers not wearing masks. Litsheim said staff need reminders to mask up. Inmates are provided masks, officials have said, but they often don’t wear them.
Sheriff Troy Knudson said he hasn’t surveyed his staff because of privacy concerns, but the jail nurse told him that the vast majority of the jail staff is vaccinated.
“At this point, we have decided not to issue a (vaccination) mandate for our staff,” either deputies or correctional officers,” Knudson said.
Knudson said if the state or federal government mandates vaccinations, “that would be something we would have to address.”
Knudson said the recent surge in COVID-19 cases locally, driven by the virus’ delta variant, had persuaded more people to get the vaccine.
“I’m hoping we’re going to be able to end up being nearly completely vaccinated as a result of what’s already been done and as a result of this surge,” Knudson said.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends vaccination for jail staffs “who are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace for various reasons, including being in close proximity (less than 6 feet) to other people.”
“Outbreaks in correctional and detention facilities are often challenging to control,” the CDC says, because of the difficulty in maintaining distance between people and limited space for isolation or quarantine.
Litsheim noted the jail was not designed for a pandemic, although air-cleaning equipment with ionization technology has been installed. The jail also has devices that are said to kill germs by flooding spaces with ultraviolet light, and those devices have been used more frequently of late.
Jail officials have said that because jail inmates come from the community, the COVID-19 cases behind bars reflect the community at large.