FOX31 Problem Solvers obtain internal emails showing COVID-19 response behind the scenes in Weld County

Problem Solvers
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GREELEY, Colo. (KDVR) – Internal emails sent between leaders involved in Weld County’s community corrections programs show the executive director of Intervention Community Corrections Services filled out paperwork to make an “urgent” order for surgical masks for staff and clients on April 15, two days after learning the halfway house had a second positive case of COVID-19.

“They’re taking precautions finally,” said Cherie Strauser, who lives at the facility for adults who have been referred by the state’s department of corrections. She said more people are wearing masks and practicing social distancing, but the changes should have come sooner.

The facility is now listed among the state’s outbreak data. Fifteen residents tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon. Two staff members also tested positive.

More than half of the people who live in the facility also work for JBS, the meat production plant that temporarily shut down due to an outbreak.

“They have got us six feet apart in line. They are doing rooms two at a time – sometimes three at a time – for shower and meds. They taped our chairs off like every other chair, so we’re not allowed to sit next to each other. They’re trying to keep us at a social distance, but that’s not working because we’re out on the patio together. We’re out in the day halls together. We’re in six-man rooms together, just like the males are set up,” Strauser said.

Friday, approximately 200 staff and residents received COVID-19 tests provided by the state health department. Neither the executive director of the facility, Brian Hulse, nor any Weld County official would confirm how many people at the facility are now quarantined.

“I can tell you that there’s only three rooms in here that aren’t quarantined. The rest are either isolation rooms or full-on quarantine rooms,” said one ICCS client, who asked to remain anonymous.

Strauser said her COVID19 test came back negative, but she is concerned because she suffers from asthma and was in contact with a woman whom she says tested positive.

“The precautions that they’ve taken have been too late, and I feel that if we’re going to get infected, we’re going to get infected. Some of us can fight this and some of us can’t,” she said.

“My concern is for my life. They’re really running a circus over here,” said Roland Kohlhoff, who said he tested negative. 

Kohlhoff said one of his roommates tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed from his room.

“They’re keeping him about 50 feet away in another room, with other people that tested positive,” he said.

Kohlhoff said he and his other roommates are now quarantined because they had been in close contact with the man who has the illness.

“I could hear him coughing at night for the last few days,” he said.  

However, Kohlhoff said the man told him he felt that he did not have any symptoms.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers obtained internal emails revealing how concerns over COVID-19 have been handled over the past several weeks.

An email dated April 7 revealed the facility, which only had one positive case at the time, had received “some reports of clients with coughs but no reports of breathing issues and none with fevers.”

At the time only six clients had been tested for the virus, according to the document. “Beginning this week (the week ending April 10), all residential clients will be temperature checked each time when returning to the facility,” the note said.

By April 8, the corrections facility learned of a complaint from a state public defender who said her client was housed with four others who were “coughing up a storm.”  

“One of them had a fever and was ‘quarantined,’ but that meant he was placed in the room next door and they all still share a bathroom,” the message said.

The director of Weld County’s Justice Services Department, Doug Erler, responded to the note by saying “these type (sic) complaints are becoming endless and seemingly all I…do these days.”

In other emails, Erler praised Hulse and other staff for working tirelessly during this crisis.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers started asking questions about whether the facility was following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations more than a week ago, when several clients used their cell phones to contact the Problem Solvers.

Clients said there was very little social distancing and there were very few people wearing masks. Hulse indicated – at the time –  that masks had been provided for staff members and people who required isolation.

Residents shared photos showing residents failing to alternate the direction in which they sleep, a CDC recommendation for detention facilities.

In an April 13 email addressed from Erler to Brian Hulse, the executive director of ICCS, he said “cell phones are your enemy right now.”

To which Hulse responded, “Yes indeed. We made a temporary policy change to help our clients cope better during the ‘stay at home’ period and allow them to better stay connected to family and treatment support services using telehealth. While this is and was the right thing to do, there are clearly those who use the privilege for ulterior purposes. Typically, clients are required to keep phones in mail boxes.”

Earlier in the day, Erler messaged Hulse to say things were “moving fast” with possible testing planned at ICCS.  “…and I see (FOX31 reporter Lori Jane) Gliha keeps hounding. It looks like your clients are not helping the cause.”

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