No Covid-19 cases at Whatcom County jail

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Whatcom County Jail personnel works to enforce sanitary and safety measures for inmates and staff as Covid-19 continues in the county. 

As of June 9, neither inmates nor staff have been infected by the coronavirus, chief corrections deputy Wendy Jones
said. The county had 419 confirmed cases and 37 deaths on June 7. 

When someone is booked into the county jail, they are screened for Covid-19 in addition to a standard examination on their physical and mental health, Jones said. Covid-19 questions include if the inmate has traveled out of the country or has been exposed to the coronavirus, and if the inmate has experienced a fever, cough or shortness of breath. Every inmate’s temperature is taken before they are booked into the jail, Jones said.

Jones said the jail doubled its daily cleaning to twice per day immediately after Covid-19 was reported in Washington. The jail trustees, inmates who have been convicted of a non-violent crime and have a good jail record, wipe down frequently touched surfaces and cells are sanitized before a new inmate moves in, she said. 

“It wasn’t a huge stress for us because we are used to dealing with offenders who may be bringing clinical diseases into the facility,” Jones said.

The jail similarly monitored a case of tuberculosis over 15 years ago, Jones said, which helped prepare the jail for future respiratory illnesses like coronavirus. After testing over 500 people, the inmate infected with tuberculosis and his wife were the only people who caught the infectious disease. 

The jail has also operated during the spread of HIV, SARS, measles and norovirus,
Jones said.

The jail began building a stockpile of PPE, including gloves and masks, in January when Covid-19 concerns began to increase, Jones said, which has supplied enough PPE equipment for every inmate and
staff in the jail. 

A 50 percent decrease in the average daily population of 304 inmates in May 2019 to 152 daily inmates in May 2020 has made more room for social distancing in the jail, according to jail data and Jones.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep it one person to one cell,” Jones said. 

If an individual was booked into the jail with Covid-19, the person would be isolated until they were cleared of symptoms or, depending on why they were booked, the jail would work to get them out of custody, Jones said. Nursing staff also work at the jail and inmates are able to get medical attention if they’re not feeling well either the same day or early the next day.

Deputies are asked to not to come to work if they feel sick, Jones said.

“It’s not only just the jail,” she said. “If people get sick here, they take it out to the community and they take it out to
their families.”

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