jail file photo

Rock County Jail officials are waiting on COVID-19 test results for 55 inmates after 29 inmates received positive test results Tuesday and Wednesday.

JANESVILLE

Twenty-nine inmates from the Rock County Jail tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and Wednesday, and officials are waiting for test results on 55 others, according to the jail commander and a news release shared Wednesday.

The jail at 3 p.m. Wednesday started receiving results from 116 inmates tested, including 29 positive and 32 negative, according to a Rock County Sheriff’s Office news release.

Results on the remaining 55 tests will not be available until today, according to the release.

An earlier news release appeared to account for two inmates who tested positive Tuesday, but jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said Wednesday a third inmate received a positive test result later Tuesday.

“Multiple inmates in multiple housing locations” exhibited symptoms, which led to the decision to test about 74 inmates, according to the earlier release.

Chellevold said “obviously that’s a concern.” More testing might be done based on the results.

The first two who tested positive had been separated from other inmates after they exhibited mild symptoms and before test results were known, according to the release.

“Additionally, during our regularly scheduled inmate temperature checks, two other inmates were identified with symptoms. All jail movement ceased and contact tracing was conducted,” the release states.

After collaborating with probation officials, jail officials released two of the inmates who tested positive because they had served enough of their sentences and no longer needed to be incarcerated, Chellevold said. It is safer for them to isolate and recover at home, he added.

Jails and prisons have been some of the most vulnerable places to COVID-19 outbreaks in the country.

The third inmate who tested positive is still in custody, Chellevold said.

The custody status of the 29 inmates who have tested positive was not clear late Wednesday.

He said officials do not know where the outbreak originated and that no one had been hospitalized because of the virus.

The three who tested positive Tuesday are among four total inmates who have tested positive at the jail. The other tested positive around the beginning of November, but officials knew of the person’s possible exposure before the person entered the jail and could isolate appropriately.

A total of 19 correctional officers have tested positive for COVID-19. The Gazette reported on the cases last month when that number was 16, and a jail official attributed it to spread in the community, not at the jail.

Chellevold said it was too early to know if other correctional officers have been affected by the recent outbreak.

He also said the usual ways to correspond with jail inmates, such as letters, emails or phone calls, are still available.

The jail is still accepting the same type of inmates that it always has, he said, and they will go through the same quarantine procedures.

New inmates are sent to a unit to quarantine for at least 14 days before they are introduced into the general population, Jail Capt. Kimberly Litsheim said last month. That 14 days starts only when the unit is full, so some inmates wait longer before moving.

Chellevold said the jail tests inmates who are experiencing symptoms and those who are determined to be in close contact with positive cases.

“Our message is that we are very cognizant of COVID-19 and how that affects people, and we’re committed with our cleaning procedures and our sanitation to keep staff and inmates safe during this time,” he said. “We’ll take whatever action is necessary to keep them healthy.”

The news release says that sheriff’s office staff members practice extensive cleaning protocols, including using a “Skytron 1140 UV Light Robot,” and those protocols will continue.

“We have been in contact with the Rock County Public Health Department to ensure the safety of our staff and inmate population,” the release states.

This story was updated at 6:04 p.m. Wednesday with details about additional test results.

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