COVID-19 outbreak doubles at Denver jail despite public health order

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the two jails operated by the Denver Sheriff Department has only grown, despite measures demanded two weeks ago by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.

The Problem Solvers obtained a Sept. 22 “Notice of Public Health Orders” sent to DSD from the department’s division of public health investigations.

At that time, the letter stated the sheriff’s department had 61 inmates and four staff members at the Downtown Detention Center who tested positive for COVID-19.

A website maintained by the City of and County of Denver showed the outbreak grew from 65 cases on Sept. 22, to 159 combined cases on Oct. 4, between the DDC on Colfax Avenue and the Denver County Jail on Smith Road.

None of this surprises Jill Scott, whose sister Audrey Scott, is an inmate at the Denver County Jail. Scott said her sister tested positive inside the jail sometime in the last week of September.

“She calls me crying at night, it does break my heart,” said Scott.

“Congested, you could tell she was having you know short of breath. She just said she was miserable,” said Scott while describing her sister’s symptoms.

The public health letter ordered the sheriff to immediately screen all inmates “daily for fever, shortness of breath, cough and other symptoms associated with COVID-19.”

The letter goes on to state that staff who display any symptoms should not return to work for at least 10 days, even though the department is already understaffed. 

The department is budgeted for 874 deputies but currently has about 200 openings.

The public health order requires all inmates and unvaccinated staff to be tested twice a week and all new inmates have to take a rapid test.

Sources tell the Problem Solvers new inmates have been waiting in the intake area for 12 hours or longer at the DDC, waiting for a safe place to be housed.

“She (Audrey Scott) said when she went she was quarantined at first, that they did have them quarantined for a while before they did let them interact anywhere else,” said Scott.

Audrey Scott was booked on June 24 when there were just five cases at the DDC and zero cases at the Denver County Jail.

Last week, DSD began transferring some COVID-19 positive inmates from the DDC to the Denver County Jail.

On Sept. 29, there were 89 COVID-19 positive inmates at the DDC and 20 at the Denver County Jail for a total of 106 COVID-19 cases.

The very next day on Sept. 30, there were 46 cases at the DDC and 63 at the Denver County Jail for a total case count of 109 COVID cases.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department told FOX31 the transfers are occurring because both jails have to be utilized to house inmates according to their classification, while continuing to quarantine individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed.

A spokeswoman for DDPHE said there was no evidence that transferring the inmates from DDC to the Denver County Jail was causing the outbreak to worsen.

By Oct. 4, the number of inmates testing positive had risen to 159, with 105 cases at the DDC and 54 cases at the Denver County Jail.

“If they were she wouldn’t have contracted it,” Scott responded when asked if the sheriff’s department was doing enough to protect her sister. “I mean she’s been in there since June, so it’s not like she just came off the street.”

So far DSD has administered nearly 1,500 vaccine doses to inmates but it doesn’t keep track of how many inmates declined to get vaccinated.

DDPHE said the two jails need to continue biweekly testing for inmates and unvaccinated staff until it can go four weeks without a positive case for the outbreak to be considered resolved.

DSD, Denver Health and Hospital Authority and DDPHE told the Problem Solvers they continue to implement protocols to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Denver jails.

A shared statement reads in part:

“Additional testing, monitoring, and environmental controls have been developed and implemented to minimize the risk of transmission within the facilities. Although these efforts continue, there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases amongst individuals in custody at the Downtown Detention Center (DDC) and Denver County Jail (COJL) which is reflective of the increase in cases with the variant in the community. We will continue to work together toward one goal and that is to keep those working and detained in Denver Jails safe. Current COVID-19, vaccination, and average daily population data for Denver Jails can be found on the Denver Sheriff Department’s Data & Statistics page.”  

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