01STOCK_CORONAVIRUS01

JANESVILLE

The Rock County Jail has eased its COVID-19 procedures, causing concern among some inmates.

For many months, the jail placed all new inmates in an isolation unit for 14 days to make sure they exhibited no COVID-19 symptoms.

That practice ended July 1 as the jail transitions back to more normal procedures, jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said.

“That means they are putting other inmates at risk, and that’s not right,” said Juan Diego Rodriguez, an inmate who contacted The Gazette on Monday.

Chellevold said officials the plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the jail meets the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rock County Public Health Department.

“We realize there comes a time when we have to start to re-open, based on the number of cases in the county and all the sources of information we have,” Chellevold said.

But Rodriguez said, “I’ve been here almost six months. I shouldn’t be around (new) inmates coming in.” He said he doesn’t want to carry the virus home to his children when he is released in about two weeks.

Rodriguez said other inmates are also worried, and many of them have health problems, such as diabetes or heart conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We’re not trying to cause anybody problems. We’re trying to be safe,” Rodriguez said. “We understand a lot of people don’t care about us, so we’ve got to watch out for ourselves. A lot of us have kids, and we’re trying to get home to them.”

Chellevold said new inmates are still asked if they have had recent contact with anyone infected with COVID-19 and whether they have any symptoms. The jail will quarantine anyone who answers “Yes,” he said.

Another change in procedures concerns nonviolent misdemeanor suspects who have been released with a court date during the pandemic. Now, Chellevold said, those people are being jailed.

The county continues to place monitoring bracelets on work-release inmates that restrict them to their homes as an alternative to jailing them in the Huber dorm, Chellevold said.

Rodriguez said he and others were asleep when vaccinations were offered, so he didn’t get vaccinated.

But Chellevold said any inmate can get vaccinated. The jail waits until it has 10 inmates who want the shots and then calls HealthNet to administer them.

Rock County Health Officer Katrina Harwood said it’s true that placing unvaccinated people together increases the likelihood that the virus could be transmitted.

However, she said, “we are returning to a state of a little bit more normal and slowly returning to procedures that were in place prior to COVID.”

Harwood noted that many organizations have eased restrictions.

“We are at a place where we can make changes to those protocols,” she said.

The county recorded 31 new cases of COVID-19 between July 6 and 12, according to Harwood. No COVID-19 deaths were reported in that time, and the county has had no COVID-19 hospitalizations since July 2, she said.

Chellevold said jail staff still wear masks when interacting with inmates, and inmates have masks and are encouraged to wear them all the time, although many don’t. And COVID-19 cleaning procedures are still in place.

Chellevold said if the pandemic worsens again, the jail could return to its previous procedures.

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