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COVID-19 infections climb at Forsyth County Jail, with 157 inmates and 28 staffers who have tested positive

COVID-19 infections climb at Forsyth County Jail, with 157 inmates and 28 staffers who have tested positive

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COVID-19 cases at the Forsyth County Jail have surged again, with a total of 185 people, including 157 inmates and 28 staffers, testing positive since the outbreak began, according to the latest numbers released Friday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

On Tuesday, the state health department reported a total of 116 people infected during the jail outbreak, 97 inmates and 19 staffers.

The jail outbreak is the second largest in the state, behind the Mecklenburg County Jail which has had 405 cumulative COVID-19 cases. Thirty cases are active. There are 29 residents in custody with COVID-19, one resident has been hospitalized and an additional 293 residents are housed in either respiratory isolation or respiratory quarantine due to potential exposures, according to a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg jail. There have been no COVID-19 related deaths there, she said.

Christina Howell, spokeswoman for the Forsyth sheriff's office, would not answer specific questions about the numbers there and said that from now on, all media inquiries about specific numbers of COVID-19 cases at the jail would be referred to the state health department. The health department releases detailed information about outbreaks each Tuesday and Friday.

No deaths have been reported at the Forsyth County Jail. 

Howell said that a mass testing of inmates and staffers was done between Monday and Thursday, resulting in the increased numbers.

As of Friday, the jail had 565 inmates and 223 detention officers. 

Howell said the numbers reflect the total number of people at the jail who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak was identified at the end of November. Some inmates may have been released or recovered from the virus during the period of the outbreak, she said.

"There are not currently 157 Detention Center residents who are positive within the Detention Center," according to a news release from the sheriff's office.

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. said in a statement that the "numbers are forever changing."

"We are in the middle of a pandemic, not only in Forsyth County but worldwide," he said. "We are committed to the safety of the residents of the Detention Center. We will continue to be vigilant as we combat this pandemic in the Detention Center and in our community."

Kimbrough could not be reached for further comment.

Triad Abolition Project, Forsyth County Community Bail Fund and Prisoner Outreach Initiative have all criticized the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office on how it has handled the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Julie Brady, president of the Forsyth County Community Bail Fund, said she finds the new numbers alarming. She referenced a news conference that Kimbrough held on Dec. 21, partially to respond to criticism. Over the two weeks after Kimbrough held the news conference, her group bailed out 25 inmates, she said. On the first day, the jail population was 587. 

When the group bailed out the 25th inmate, Brady said, the jail population was 590. The lowest bond that the group paid was $150.

"I think Sheriff Kimbrough should be working with (Forsyth County District Attorney) Jim O'Neill and Jennifer Martin (Chief Assistant District Attorney) to reduce the jail population," she said. 

Brady said Kimbrough could order his deputies not to arrest so many people. 

"They're still arresting people for probation violations and misdemeanors," she said. 

Major Richard Carleton, detention bureau commander, said in a statement that jail officials anticipated the increase in COVID-19 cases after the holidays. 

"We are doing all we can do, including following every regulation by the CDC (Centers for Disease Prevention and Control) and the recommendations of our Health Department to mitigate the spread of the virus."

The sheriff's office said it continues to work with the Forsyth County Health Department and Wellpath, the jail's medical provider, to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Sheriff's officials have said that all new inmates are quarantined for 14 days and are tested on the fifth day. Howell said in an email Friday that detention officers have recently started wearing only N95 or KN95 masks while around inmates. They had worn those kind of masks in certain areas of the jail. Inmates are now being issued two surgical masks every day, she said. Inmates have been restricted in movement inside the jail due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

An outbreak at a correctional facility is not considered over until 28 days after the latest date of onset in a symptomatic individual. Inmates are considered no longer infectious after they exhibit no symptoms and completed required isolation, which is 14 days, according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. 

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@mhewlettWSJ

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