The surge of COVID-19 cases at the Forsyth County Jail appears to have slowed, with total cumulative cases at 237 on Tuesday, an increase of three from Friday's report, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The state health department reported that 191 inmates and 46 staffers had tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak at the jail was identified in late November. The number of staffers infected with COVID-19 remained unchanged since Friday's report. An additional three inmates have tested positive, according to Tuesday's report.
The sheriff's office reported on Tuesday that it had 75 active COVID-19 cases among inmates at the jail, down from 87 on Friday. Based on those numbers, 116 inmates have recovered from COVID-19. As of Tuesday, the jail had 584 inmates.
The health department releases reports on outbreaks at correctional facilities every Tuesday and Friday. That number is cumulative and tracks all cases over the course of the outbreak.
The Forsyth outbreak remains the second largest in the state, behind Mecklenburg County Jail. The state health department reported a total of 278 COVID-19 cases at the Mecklenburg jail, including 244 inmates and 34 staffers. The health department has reported one death at the Mecklenburg jail since the outbreak began. Mecklenburg jail officials have disputed those numbers and have said that the jail has not had any COVID-19-related deaths.
The latest numbers released show that the Forsyth County Jail has the largest number of staffers who have tested positive for COVID-19. The Guilford County Sheriff's Office reported an outbreak at its county jail last week. The state health department report on Tuesday said 23 inmates and four staffers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at the Guilford County Jail.
The outbreak at the jail has sparked criticism from local activist groups, including Triad Abolition Project and Forsyth County Community Bail Fund, about how the sheriff's office has handled things. Julie Brady, the president of the Forsyth County Community Bail Fund, has said that Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. has not done enough to stop the spread. She said the sheriff should be reducing the jail population and one way he could do that is to have deputies stop arresting people for low-level non-violent charges. Kimbrough said he has worked with the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office to reduce the jail population.
On Jan. 13, the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office posted a video on its Facebook page to combat what spokeswoman Christina Howell described as misconceptions about the COVID-19 outbreak.
"As the number of COVID cases continues to increase throughout Forsyth County, there is extra attention given to the number of detention center residents who have tested positive," she said in a nearly 7-minute video. "Yet no one is talking about the 98 residents who have recovered."
The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office had not previously disclosed on a regular basis the number of inmates who have recovered from COVID-19.
In an email on Jan. 15, Howell said that the sheriff's office would now provide the number of current active cases on its Facebook page on Tuesday and Friday at the same time that the state health department releases cumulative numbers for outbreaks in congregate living settings, which include jails.
The sheriff's office released the number of active cases on Tuesday, along with the same statement it provided on Friday. That statement outlined how the sheriff's office is handling the outbreak and included a quote from Kimbrough in which he says that the sheriff's office remained vigilant in combating COVID-19.
Howell said Tuesday in a email that jail staff continues to "diligently alongside the Health Department and Wellpath to mitigate the spread of the virus. We remain steadfastly committed to both the safety and wellbeing of the residents in our care and custody."
The sheriff's office said in the video that 29 staffers were positive for COVID-19. The office didn't release a number on Friday or Tuesday.
Howell has previously said that detention officers have recently started wearing only N95 or KN95 masks while around inmates. Before, they had worn those kind of masks only 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.