GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.- In an outbreak initially reported on Nov. 6 with just six positive inmates and two positive detentions staff members, the Mesa County Detentions Facility now faces a growing COVID-19 outbreak.
On Tuesday morning Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis confirmed with KREX 5/Fox 4’s Adrian Thomas there are currently 116 inmates in custody who have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 10 staff members. That’s a dramatic increase from the 61 new inmate cases reported just this past Friday. Both the staff at the jail and Mesa County Public Health are working hard to contain the spread.
“It’s very difficult for us to say definitively how this came into our facility,” said Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis.
Public health experts say congregate living facilities like jails are a perfect storm for rapid spread of COVID-19. With Mesa County experiencing a serious spike in COVID-19 cases, Sheriff Lewis says the situation at the jail is a reflection of what’s going on in the community as a whole. Throughout the pandemic, the jail has operated at a lower capacity to make room for quarantine efforts should an outbreak occur.
“We’re using the available space that we have to separate out the groups of people who have tested positive, people who may have been exposed but are not symptomatic right now, and then people who are negative.”
Lewis says there are just under 400 inmates right now, and the jail’s maximum capacity is just over 550. Lewis adds the jail is working with other local law enforcement to keep people committing some nonviolent minor crimes outside of the jail to reduce risk of virus spread. Mesa County Public Health is partnering with jail to handle the outbreak.
“We tested two pods. It was approximately 140 tests last week,” said Jeff Kuhr, Executive Director of Mesa County Public Health.
The Mesa County Detentions Facility is divided into 6 housing pods. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently isolated to two of these pods, and all inmates were tested in the two pods regardless of symptoms. Sheriff Lewis says inmate movement throughout the facility between pods has been suspended.
MCPH Director Jeff Kuhr says the entire facility will not be tested at this time, as the outbreak is currently isolated to two pods, and imamates in other parts of the facility are not showing any symptoms. But Kuhr and Lewis say inmates are constantly monitored by medical staff on site. Kuhr says, right now, testing and isolating the exposed housing pods are what is best.
“Definitely test everybody would be a great approach,” Kuhr said. “To isolate to certain areas is a good thing as well. I mean it’s the best you can hope for under these circumstances, and then continue to talk about options moving forward.”
Lewis says inmates in the two exposed pods are required to wear masks outside their cells. This is a tighter restriction from the rest of the facility. The rules, according to the sheriff’s office’s COVID-19 information page says “wearing a cloth mask is voluntary for inmates who are not experiencing symptoms or have not been exposed to COVID-19.” Inmates who exhibit symptoms at any time are medically isolated and ultimately tested for the virus. Lewis wants to reassure families of inmates, their loved ones are receiving the utmost care while in custody.
“We’re doing everything we can to treat them, to provide medical care for them, to ensure that they have access to cleaning, to masks, to everything that they would need to try and keep themselves healthy.”
Lewis added currently, no inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 have needed to be hospitalized, and that they are managing their symptoms on site with 24-hour medical staff.