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JANESVILLE

Four Rock County Jail inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two days, a jail official said Friday afternoon, news that comes one day before the jail plans to offer vaccines to inmates.

The jail is going forward with its plans to offer vaccines to inmates who want them Saturday.

Cmdr. Erik Chellevold told The Gazette that three of the four inmates who tested positive were in the same area, while the fourth was in a different part of the jail.

The jail conducted facilitywide testing in response to the positive cases, and he said the first 70 tests came back negative. Another batch of 33 tests were awaiting results as of Friday afternoon.

Chellevold said this new slate of positive diagnoses first came to officials' attention after an inmate said he wasn’t feeling well.

The commander said the jail’s virus mitigation protocols, such as screening and isolating inmates in their respective units, have not changed.

Officials said the newest string of cases will not cancel the jail’s plans to offer single-dose vaccines to inmates Saturday through the help of HealthNet of Rock County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who are currently sick with COVID-19 should wait to receive vaccines until they have “recovered from their illness and have met the criteria for discontinuing isolation.”

“Those without symptoms should also wait until they meet the criteria before getting vaccinated,” the CDC recommends.

Ian Hedges, CEO of HealthNet, told The Gazette on Friday that the jail will put extra guards in place to limit potential spread of the virus as they vaccinate inmates Saturday.

He said they will do “extensive” screening and offer rapid COVID-19 tests to inmates to see if they can receive the vaccine and if they need to be isolated. If an inmate is deemed to be a close contact of someone who tests positive, he said that inmate will be advised not to get the vaccine.

However, Hedges said he wants to make sure that discharged inmates who could not get the vaccine will receive a resource card when they leave the jail that lets them know that they may come to HealthNet to set up an appointment.

Jails and prisons have been among the most vulnerable places to coronavirus outbreaks, which is part of the reason HealthNet pushed to acquire the necessary vaccines for inmates through the state, Hedges has said.

Inmates were eligible March 1. 

HealthNet and the jail had to pursue the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine because the two-shot option would have proved challenging for a jail population that is usually in flux.

The Rock County Jail dealt with a coronavirus outbreak of its own when more than half of the inmate population tested positive around December and January.

Hedges said HealthNet will provide technical assistance to the jail so it can become a vaccine provider in the future.

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