Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde announces COVID19 cases at the Bonneville County Jail. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com
IDAHO FALLS — Almost every inmate in a single pod at the Bonneville County Jail tested positive for COVID-19.
Bonneville County Sheriff Paul J. Wilde made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference. Wilde says last week, an inmate wasn’t feeling well and asked to be tested.
Medical staff performed the test and on Friday, a lab returned a positive result for coronavirus. Everyone in his pod was tested Monday and of the 35 inmates held in the unit, 34 received positive results Tuesday night.
“Procedures to keep that particular housing unit isolated and minimize contamination from other parts of the jail as much as possible were immediately implemented,” Wilde says.
Staff at the jail report the inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 say they do not have symptoms.
Jail Doctor Jeff Keller said by following CDC guidelines for jails, the staff hopes to prevent new cases from coming inside.
Each inmate at booking is given an intake questioner that determines their potential exposure to the virus. The inmates are then isolated for 14 days in a different part of the jail before going to the pods, Keller explains.
“We’ve issued extra sanitation supplies and masks to all the inmates,” Keller says. “The inmates are not required to wear the masks in the dorms, but they are required to wear the masks outside the dorms.”
Inmates at the jail are not the only ones who have tested positive for COVID-19. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, three members of the jail staff have tested positive for the virus. Wilde said these staff members isolated and did not come to work.
“Everybody is wearing masks in the facility and everyone is trying to do everything they can,” Wilde says. “They have been doing all the cleaning and precautions they could.”
Wilde says the Sheriff’s Office makes every effort to protect everyone in their custody and jail staff are well equipped and prepared for the pandemic.
“A jail is not the Marriot,” Wilde says. “It is a jail, but our jail is taken care of. We maintain it. We make sure there is a medical staff that takes care of our inmates. All the false stuff that comes out about how bad it is needs to be put away and know that the inmates in the Bonneville County Jail are well taken care of.”
While staff at the jail say they are doing everything they can to keep COVID-19 from spreading, at least one inmate still felt concerned. Skylar Briggs spent less than 24 hours in jail before bonding out Tuesday.
“Immediately when I went in there everybody seemed to be coughing,” Briggs says. “I was kind of concerned about myself for being in there.”
Briggs says seeing how the staff moved from unit to unit added to his concern.
“I don’t want to catch it,” Briggs says. “I felt like everybody was sick around me. … I hope they can get it under control and I hope they can treat inmates better and maybe provide medications that can help with their symptoms.”
Keller said when inmates test positive for COVID-19, medical staff provides ibuprofen and acetaminophen to manage the symptoms.
The cases that showed up late Tuesday night are not yet included in Bonneville County’s total case numbers, Eastern Idaho Public Health Community Health Director Jame Corbett said. As the actual reports from the test are received by EIPH, then the numbers will be added.
“This is isolated out,” Corbett says. “Congregate living facilities, specifically not long term care, but jails or prisons, are not counted in the active case rate.”
With the cases not being counted as active, the jail numbers will not impact the threshold numbers established by EIPH. The threshold numbers determine what stage the county is in. Currently, with the number of cases Bonneville County has sustained for three days, health officials placed the area at moderate risk or yellow.
Wilde says that while inmates are sick, they take the situation seriously and the detention deputies care.
“It’s not going to be like mom taking care of you when you got the flu,” Wilde says. “But we have a great medical staff that are professional … and they will take good care of our inmates that are in our custody.”