The News-Leader is aware that its readers are concerned about COVID-19 in all of its aspects in the Nassau County community, including the Nassau County Jail and Detention Center.
The News-Leader reached out to the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County with a list of questions to clarify what measures are being taken at the jail regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the inmate population at that facility. In addition, the News-Leader asked for statements from Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, the director of the county health department; Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper, who runs the jail; and Greg Foster, the director of Nassau County Emergency Management.
Their responses in writing through email were a combination of efforts from both the Sheriff’s Office and the county health department and were provided by Ashley Spicer, the public information officer for the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office.
News-Leader: Does the FDOH publish records of COVID-19 cases occurring in the Nassau County Jail? Those being inmates and staff. Where is that located?
Response: “The daily county report includes the number of Nassau County resident cases associated with correctional facilities. This report can be found at https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/. Note that this count includes cases in Nassau County residents who worked in or resided in any correctional facility and is not specific to the Nassau County Jail.”
News-Leader: It is the News-Leader’s understanding that there have been numerous cases in the last couple of weeks. What happened and what actions are being taken?
Response: “Presently about 3 percent of our inmates tested positive (that’s 6 inmates). Those inmates are in isolation in the jail. We also quarantine any new inmates who come into our jail for 14 days as recommended. If an inmate feels ill or has symptoms, we test them and quarantine them while we wait for their results. Any positive corrections officer or officer who feels sick goes into quarantine and await(s) test results.” FDOH Nassau recommends following CDC guidance, available online at https://bit.ly/338Lz3h.
News-Leader: What are the actual counts of how many COVID-19 cases and their outcomes?
Response: “Stated above … however we are still waiting on additional test results. Those numbers may or may not change. FDOH only releases what is available on (the) COVID website which is not facility specific. Based on the 9/2/2020 daily county COVID report for Nassau, there were a total of 24 cases year to date with an increase of nine correctional associated cases from 8/26 to 9/1. Data is provisional and subject to updating.”
News-Leader: What is the FDOH role in monitoring, referrals to treatment and follow up with inmates and staff?
Response: “When a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 is identified in an inmate or staff member at the jail, the case investigator works closely with the facility (to) conduct a thorough investigation and ensure the appropriate follow-up occurs. Investigators collect information regarding the cases’ symptoms, close contacts, complications, and treatment, and underlying medical conditions. Cases will be isolated until they are no longer contagious, and any close contacts who were exposed to a case while not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) will be quarantined for 14 days.”
News-Leader: How does the FDOH work with the Sheriff’s Office?
Response: “DOH-Nassau has been working with the Nassau County Jail to provide infection control guidance, education on appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing assistance, and support them in caring for their inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Asked what procedures are currently in place regarding the Nassau County Jail, Ngo-Seidel, Leeper and Foster responded by emailing these statements:
Ngo-Seidel: “The Health Department and the Nassau County Jail have an existing partnership. We have collaborated to prevent, and control disease spread within the jail and the community and we rely on consultation, communication and sharing resources when health issues arise in the inmate population.”
Leeper: “Our staff at the jail has done an excellent job in trying to control any COVID issues from entering the facility up to this point. They work with the jail medical personnel, the EOC, as well as the
Nassau County Health Department to follow proper guidelines and have been more successful than most other jails in controlling the virus. Crime doesn’t stop and people are constantly being arrested. Trying to quarantine these new inmates creates issues because the jail was not built with
this in mind and we only have a limited space. It’s easy to deal with people who have or show signs and symptoms, but when individuals show no signs and are classified as asymptomatic how does one know they have the virus? If it was that easy to control then why is our country still having outbreaks? We continue to work with the judicial system to release inmates who can be released in order for them to quarantine at home, but if they can’t be released then there’s nothing we can do other than monitor any symptoms and make sure we are taking the necessary precautions. Inmates are issued masks for their protection and the facility is cleaned several times a day. In addition to new inmates coming into the facility our deputies are also coming and going so we take everyone’s temperature before they enter the facility, make sure they utilize the proper PPE with masks, as well as sanitize along with constant hand washing. Even so we have an occasional employee who either comes in contact with someone positive or they test positive themselves. That means our employees have to quarantine, which causes us to utilize overtime to fill those temporary vacant positions. The one sure way to make sure no one in the jail has the virus is to let everybody out and close the facility down, but that is not a viable option. So we try to do the best we can.”
Foster: “Nassau County Emergency Management is currently monitoring the COVID 19 situation in the Nassau County Jail and Detention Center. NCEM is working with the Florida Department of Health – Nassau and the administration of the jail to help ensure that all actions are taken to provide for the safety and health of the deputies, staff, and inmates within the facility. Specifically, information and training are being provided by NCEM to ensure that the members working at the jail (are) educated on the most recent guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health. Additional actions will be taken in the event that they are warranted.”