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News / Clark County News

Clark County Jail COVID-19 outbreak peaked at 49 cases

Defense attorneys concerned about limited access to clients due to precautions

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: December 8, 2021, 12:58pm

As of Tuesday afternoon, the COVID-19 outbreak in the Clark County Jail was down to eight active cases, according to Clark County Public Health, for a total of 49 cases since Nov. 19.

The outbreak, the largest at the jail during the pandemic, peaked Nov. 21 with 16 new cases reported that day, according to Public Health. The agency said one of the cases in this latest outbreak was a correctional staff member. An outbreak beginning in the late fall of 2020 led to 44 inmates testing positive by early December.

Public Health considers a case active if a person is still within their 10-day isolation period since testing positive.

To combat the spread, the jail is requiring visitors to wear protective eye wear, in addition to N-95 masks, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Jail staff are also tested once a week with rapid tests.

People are screened for COVID-19 prior to being booked and wear masks, Jail Chief Phil Sample said two weeks ago when there were about 25 cases in the jail. He said the facility has been following Clark County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol.

Last week, visitors, including defense attorneys, were required to first show proof of a negative test or take a rapid test at the jail, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Brent Waddell. That is no longer required, and Waddell said, “this is an ever-evolving, fluid situation.” Attorneys meet with their clients in noncontact rooms with glass between them.

Recently, defense attorneys have raised concerns in court over having limited access to their clients.

Defense attorney Megan Peyton said in a phone interview Tuesday that she is concerned tighter access to the jail will delay criminal cases when the courts are already backed up.

“We can’t keep cases moving if we can’t adequately talk to clients,” she said. “It slows down the whole justice system.”

Peyton covers the morning first appearance docket for defense attorneys who represent indigent clients. She has asked judges to consider the COVID-19 outbreak at the jail when setting bail for inmates, sometimes requesting they be placed on supervised release for that reason.

Criminal justice officials have met several times during the pandemic to discuss how to prevent the jail population from getting the virus.

The sheriff’s office worked with the courts and prosecutor’s office to develop a release strategy that would allow inmates considered an acceptable risk to return to their communities, limiting intake to the most serious offenders.

Prior to the pandemic, the average census varied from 590 to 630. Now, it averages 330 to 360 inmates. In recent months, the number has been slowly ticking upward, Sample told The Columbian last month.

This week, the jail population has been between 360 to 370 inmates, Waddell said.