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May 7, 2021

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A dozen inmates at Clark County Jail test positive for COVID-19

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter

A dozen inmates housed at the Clark County Jail tested positive for COVID-19 within the last week, according to a weekly report the jail sends to the state.

On Thursday, the jail announced that seven inmates and four corrections deputies tested positive for the illness.

Now, the weekly report says the number of positive cases among the inmate population has increased by five, after 52 inmates were tested. The report says no additional officers have tested positive after 31 were tested.

A total of 14 inmates are being quarantined, according to the jail. Seven corrections deputies are also being quarantined. Two support staff members were tested and quarantined, but positive test results have not come back at this time.

The jail said in a Thursday news release that the positive cases were “localized to one small housing unit.” Jail Chief Ric Bishop said the newly discovered positive cases were reported Friday morning, and they’re all still confined to the same housing unit.

After the first inmate tested positive, the jail consulted with Clark County Public Health, and all inmates in the housing unit were tested for the virus, according to the jail.

“Those with positive results were transferred to the jail’s negative air flow medical housing area,” the news release said.

Public Health is working closely with the jail to identify cases and take steps to ensure the virus does not spread to more inmates, according to Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director.

Criminal justice officials have met several times this year to discuss the inmate population at the jail and steps needed to prevent them from getting the virus.

Earlier this year, general criteria were established for the types of crimes and cases assessed for potential release into pretrial supervision. The criteria includes nonviolent cases, such as drug and property crimes. No cases involving sex offenses are reviewed, and generally, no domestic violence cases meet the criteria.

In mid-March, the facility housed 313 inmates at one point, a low not seen by Bishop since 1985. The releases allowed the jail to avoid an outbreak, unlike other facilities nationwide, Bishop said. By Nov. 3, at least 169,286 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 5 percent increase from the week before, according to The Marshall Project.

The Clark County Jail’s total population fluctuated around 350 inmates for months, but over time, it started to creep back up. Sheriff Chuck Atkins said he noticed the population was climbing in August.

According to the weekly COVID-19 report, the jail is currently housing about 445 inmates.

The sheriff’s office has been tasked with filling positions left vacant since March, and once it has the employees, the current course of action calls for the use of the county’s Jail Work Center, a 100-bed, minimum-security facility that remains open but has not been used for housing for five months. Not all of the vacancies need to be filled to use the work center.

Breanne Nelson, Human Resources manager with the sheriff’s office, said in an email that following two corrections deputy career expos, the jail has hired two new deputies who will start next week. However, there are 11 positions to fill, she said.