COVID-19 Spread Identified At County Jail

A recent spread of COVID-19 among inmates at the Fond du Lac County Jail was detected last week, according to Sheriff Ryan Waldschmidt. In a press release issued Thursday, Waldschmidt said a single inmate living in a dorm style housing reported to staff that he was experiencing body aches and not feeling well in general. A COVID test was administered and came back positive.

Further Covid testing protocols were initiated and all other inmates housed in that dorm were tested.  Although all others were asymptomatic (not even a mild fever), 8 of 15 returned positive (including the one symptomatic inmate).  Positive inmates remain housed together and isolated, and negative inmates were transferred to another dorm for quarantine and monitoring. 

Walschmidt went on to say “We remain committed to providing our community with the status of Covid-19 among our jail inmate population.  We identified the first Covid positive inmate in May of 2020, and since that time we’ve identified several other Covid positive inmates upon booking or during their initial 14-day quarantine period in the jail.”

This past Monday, an inmate in the dorm immediately adjacent to the dorm indicated above (the two dorms share a common entry space off the hallway) reported loss of taste and smell to jail nursing staff.  He was immediately tested and returned positive.  All other inmates housed in that dorm were tested, and although all were asymptomatic, 11 of 14 returned positive (including the one symptomatic inmate).  Positive inmates remain housed together, and negative inmates were transferred to a different dorm for quarantine and monitoring.

As of this time, no other inmates have tested positive, and the two symptomatic inmates are recovering with only minor symptoms.  With 17 of the 19 Covid positive inmates being asymptomatic, the Sheriff’s Department was unable to determine when the first case arrived in the dorm or how it was transmitted.  Possibilities of spread could include an asymptomatic employee transmitting it, an inmate being exposed to a COVID-positive person in a courtroom or other proceeding, or any number of other potential exposures that staff was not aware of. According to Sheriff Waldschmidt, many policies and procedures are in place in an attempt to prevent spread, but says “we are not fully immune to the potential spread of the virus in the jail.”        

Jail nurses are in the facility 16 hours per day, 7 days a week, and a physician is available 24/7.  In January the Sheriff’s Department received a supply of rapid test kits, which now gives staff the ability to test inmates in real time and receive results within 15 minutes, rather than three to five days later as was the case last year.  UV sterilization equipment was installed last fall in the jail air handling system, in an effort to kill viruses and other airborne contaminants.  Many other protocols and equipment remain in place to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spreading among inmates and jail staff.  

Waldschmidt closed the press release by saying “It is important to recognize that this is the first instance of known spread among inmates in 11 months since this pandemic began.  Our correctional staff have done an incredible job, under very difficult conditions, mitigating the spread and working with known positive inmates, all while still maintaining a safe and functional jail environment. During the last 11 months, several thousand inmates were booked into the jail during this pandemic, and jail staff will manage thousands more this year, continuing their important work in the criminal justice system and keeping Fond du Lac County residents safe.”