55 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the Cascade County jail

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said Aug. 24 that there are 55 confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with the Adult Detention Center.

Of those, 53 are inmates and two are detention staff, Slaughter said.

COVID-19 confirmed in Cascade County jail

Last week, one inmate started showing symptoms and was tested for COVID-19. When that test came back positive, the sheriff’s office worked with the Cascade County City-Health Department and Alluvion Health to test the remainder of the inmates.

Slaughter said Monday that 90 percent of those tests were completed and so far, 55 were positive.

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The employees were sent home to self isolate and most of the inmates were within the same pod so they’re isolated together. Some others are isolated in different areas of the jail, he said.

The inmate who exhibited symptoms last week had been in the jail for well over 14 days, meaning he was not the original source of the outbreak and as of Aug. 24, officials said they didn’t know yet the source. But based on the incubation time for COVID-19, it’s likely the infection came from someone who’d been booked into the jail within the last two weeks.

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“It became evident they were infected by somebody,” said Paul Krogue, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of Montana, the contracted medical providers for the jail.

All of the jail’s positive tests haven’t yet been counted in the state totals since they’re posted once every morning.

On Aug. 24, the state map showed 17 new cases for Cascade County, bringing the total to 217. Again, that does not include all of the new cases at the jail.

There are currently 51 active cases in Cascade County, per the state map, but that will change again in the morning when the state updates their data.

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Krogue said the initial case had exhibited classic COVID symptoms. After talking with more of the positive individuals, Krogue said some indicated they had mild symptoms, many were asymptomatic and a few are going through active illness now.

Slaughter said that so far, there are no positive cases on the Montana State Prison side of the facility,

Krogue said the jail and medical staff had put precautionary measures into place early on, but “there was just no way to mitigate that risk to zero.”

He said that currently all the positive individuals and other inmates are being medically monitored and evaluated and staff will ensure they have appropriate medical care throughout the oubreak.

Masks have now been distributed to inmates. Earlier in the pandemic, Slaughter said they weren’t using masks in the jail due to security concerns and on Monday he said that previously they didn’t have access to the appropriate type of masks for inmates, but the county has since acquired those masks.

Slaughter said they’re limiting movement in and out of the jail as much as possible, but they still have to perform their public safety function and that law enforcement will continue to arrest people and take them to jail as needed.

The jail remains overcrowded and the outbreak is exacerbating the situation, Slaughter said.

As of Aug. 24, the population on the county jail said was 447. The capacity is 360.

Slaughter said they anticipate a flood of requests from defense attorneys requesting that inmates be released on their own recognizance and that they are asking people to keep in mind that for now, if someone is positive, they are isolated and receiving medical care in the jail.

Slaughter said due to health privacy laws, jail officials can’t say which inmates are positive and which aren’t so it would set up a situation of releasing positive individuals into the community. The health department would issue a health order to those people to self isolate, but it could be difficult to enforce if those individuals don’t have stable housing.

Adding 55 positive case at once is a hefty increase in active cases for CCHD staff to do contact tracing and monitoring.

Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said that for now, CCHD has two full time public health nurses and some part time public health nurses conducting contact tracing and monitoring. Other CCHD staff has also been trained to help and Alluvion Health has provided staff to assist, Gardner said.

Slaughter said he’s advised other agencies who have contact with the jail of the situation but it’s up to those agencies whether to test all of their personnel, unless they’re identified through contact tracing and CCHD would handle that.

Alluvion has also resumed testing for the general public. The agency has partnered with the state lab to provide the testing in addition to symptomatic or contact tracing testing.

Alluvion officials said they’re expecting results for asymptomatic tests to take between 5-10 business days depending on volume.