156 Clay County jail inmates test positive for COVID-19

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – A week after the Clay County Sheriff’s Office reported 18 cases of COVID-19 inside the county jail, Sheriff Michelle Cook said Monday that 156 inmates have now tested positive.

The outbreak involves more than 30% of the inmate population.

The announcement comes just days after News4Jax received multiple tips from families with loved ones inside the jail who said the spread of the sometimes deadly virus had worsened.

Eight detention deputies have also tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Cook said during a press conference Monday afternoon.

Cook said no one is in severe medical distress, but all are showing some symptoms.

“It was really only a matter of time before either an employee or a new inmate brought COVID-19 into the facility. Now that it’s here we’re doing everything we can to keep everybody safe," Cook said.

Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook announces COVID-19 outbreak at county jail.
Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook announces COVID-19 outbreak at county jail. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

A county health official said the agency has not been able to track who started the outbreak in the facility.

Cook said the jail has taken measures to isolate and quarantine those who have symptoms, test positive or have refused testing. The local health department said it will be doing additional testing in the next two weeks.

“We require that our employees wear masks and appropriate PPE, we are providing additional hand sanitizer to all of our employees, and we check our employee’s temperatures at the beginning of each shift before they come into the facility,” Cook said. “For those inmates that are in our custody and care, they are screened when they are brought in, and immediately isolated into quarantine depending on if they have any symptoms or have a fever.”

News4Jax spoke with someone who was released from the jail earlier this month.

At that time, the county was reporting 18 positive cases in inmates.

He says he believes there were more cases, and he even put in a request to be tested for the virus but says he never got it.

The man showed News4Jax a medical request form made to the Clay County Sheriff’s office from a former inmate at the jail.

It was filed in July and he was released two weeks ago and he said he was never tested.

“What happened? I requested it. They put on their keep all medical appointments and I was never called one time to be tested for it,” he said.

The former inmate, who doesn’t want to be identified, was in the jail for about two and half months.

“To say we can’t have no inmate movement throughout the jail would be impossible. You have different things that come up so with that we’ve identified the type of inmates were going to have in there so it gives us options in where we can actually put them and where we can’t put them,” said Director of Corrections Chris Coldiron.

The former inmate said even in isolation, the precautions weren’t in place soon enough.

“They’re saying that they’ve been doing this enhanced cleaning since March? No, they haven’t. A week before I was released, they finally started bringing bleach into the dorms and cleaning it that way,” he said.

News4Jax also got reports of the phone lines in the jail being off, a lack of cleaning and no air condition.

The Director of corrections says they are getting some new ways of communicating inside the jail and that phone lines were down for a day and a half two weeks ago.

He says clothing, linens, and masks are exchanged twice a week and they’ve increased their washing chemicals.

Cook said about 60 to 70 inmates have refused testing and are treated as if they are positive cases and isolated.

There are currently 472 inmates in the jail, Cook said.

“I’d like to commend our detention, folks, first, for going so long without COVID-19 being introduced to the facility that’s actually remarkable considering our general population,” Cook said.

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