Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Inmate at jail tested positive for covid-19, sheriff’s office says

- JOSEPH FLAHERTY

An individual who was arrested by Little Rock police and who recently tested positive for the coronaviru­s is being held in a negative pressure room in the Pulaski County jail, according to a news release Monday from the county sheriff’s office.

Authoritie­s said Little Rock police informed facility staff members of the individual’s positive covid-19 status before the person arrived at the jail. Medical care will be provided by Turn-Key Health, the jail’s health services provider.

The arrival of the individual at the Pulaski County jail presents the risk of an outbreak happening at a third detention facility in Arkansas. Two prisons in the state are already struggling to contain outbreaks of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronaviru­s, and a total of more than 1,000 federal and state inmates have tested positive for the virus so far in Arkansas.

The Pulaski County jail inmate, who faces felony charges, is being held in a negative pressure room inside the jail and will remain

there until the person can be released under conditions set by the courts, the sheriff’s office said.

A negative pressure room is designed to contain airborne contaminan­ts through a ventilatio­n system.

The arrestee, whom the sheriff’s office did not identify, is the only individual inside the pressure room at this time, according to Mitch McCoy, a spokesman for the Pulaski County sheriff’s office.

McCoy declined to say when the inmate was booked into the jail, citing federal health privacy laws. He argued that because the sheriff’s office has identified the arresting agency, disclosing the booking date risked giving away too much informatio­n that could be used to identify the individual.

As of Monday afternoon, 886 people were being held in the Pulaski County jail, according to McCoy.

Two prisons have become hotbeds of the coronaviru­s outbreak in Arkansas. At the Cummins Unit, a large state prison in Lincoln County, 873 inmates have tested positive, Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith said during a briefing on Monday afternoon. At least four inmates at the Cummins Unit have died of covid-19.

Inside a federal prison in Forrest City, 172 people had tested positive for covid-19 as of Monday, an increase of 22 from the day before, according to Smith.

During Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s news conference on Monday, Smith said Pulaski County jail officials have been in contact with his staff at the Health Department for guidance on how to avoid spreading the virus inside the facility.

The jail serves the most populous county in Arkansas and has a capacity of more than 1,200 beds.

The Pulaski County sheriff’s office has adopted measures to attempt to prevent the virus from spreading within the jail, including temperatur­e and pulse oxidation screenings for new arrivals, as well as daily screenings for inmates and staff members. In-person visitation at the jail has been suspended since March.

However, since the outbreak began, the county jail has only released a limited number of inmates outside of the usual cycle of people arriving at the jail and being released after posting bail. In fact, the total number of inmates at the jail on Monday was roughly the same as it was during the first week of April, when authoritie­s reported a population of 874.

McCoy said the jail population largely has been floating between 830 and 860.

During an interview last month, Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins said the county jail does not have electronic monitors available and has not had them for years. As a result, he said, the jail cannot release a significan­t number of inmates to home confinemen­t, unlike the jail in Washington County, as a preventive measure to stave off a large-scale outbreak.

Additional­ly, Higgins indicated that decisions about releases are not made unilateral­ly by the sheriff’s office and require input from judges and prosecutor­s. “It’s not a general, broad decision on releasing,” Higgins said on April 7.

McCoy also suggested that the jails in Washington County and Pulaski County are different, with the latter responsibl­e for holding many more individual­s accused of serious felony crimes.

Late last month, the sheriff’s office announced that an agency employee had tested positive for the coronaviru­s, but for reasons unrelated to the virus, the employee had not reported to work in more than two weeks. McCoy declined to confirm whether the employee was a deputy or a civilian worker.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States