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Correctional center reports COVID case uptick

By Sue Sitter - | Dec 19, 2020

A spokesperson for the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center in Rugby announced an “uptick” in COVID-19 cases in the facility Dec. 15.

“We have seen a recent uptick in positive cases in the jail for COVID,” Mike Graner, administrator for the facility announced.

“Early in December, we started to get some reports from the offender population of mild symptoms – cold or flu types of symptoms. Some testing was done and in that testing, we had a positive result.”

Graner said the inmate testing positive was housed in the jail’s general population. “Because of that and all the close contacts that can be generated in that situation, that triggered us to do a full-scale testing on December 10,” Graner noted.

“That full-scale test included all the offenders along with all of our staff,” Graner added. “We submitted 77 tests to the state and then all of the results came back on Sunday evening (Dec. 13), and, unfortunately, 21 positive cases were discovered. All 21 positive cases are individuals confined in the facility. Oddly enough, none of the staff tested positive. So, once we were fully aware of the scale of the issue, those 21 individuals were isolated from the individuals that were negative.”

“The 21 positive cases came from three different living units in the building. One of those living units (had 12 of the 21 cases),” Graner noted, saying jail staff did “lots of juggling” to rehouse and quarantine inmates.

“We have an isolation unit with those cases in it and, basically, anyone who was living in a unit where the positive cases came from will be quarantine units and we will be retesting everyone other than the positive cases starting (Dec. 16),” Graner said. “This is just to keep track of how widespread this is or may become.”

“I can tell you that of the 21 positive cases, no one is severely ill at this time,” he added. “At the most, we have mild to moderate cold or flu types of symptoms. Everyone’s receiving the necessary medical care to address symptoms, but a number of the people of that 21 are reporting no symptoms.”

Graner added, “The facility is in a lock-down status. That means the offender population movement within the facility is extremely limited. Only for necessary purposes do they move out of their immediate housing area.”

“Individuals who do not work here are not allowed in the secure side,” Graner said of the lockdown. “That could include attorneys or contractors. Visitation, although it’s non-contact, has been suspended at this time because visitation on the offender side is a shared space, so to limit cross-contamination, we have suspended visitation.”

Graner said fingerprinting services for the public have been suspended as well.

Graner said he had heard vaccines for COVID-19 might reach the facility soon.

“We could be looking at mid-January yet (before the vaccine reaches first responders and correctional officers) to have a vaccine available,” Graner said. “It seems it’s right around the corner. I’m not sure that’s realistic or not. We’re polling our staff right now to find out who would take the vaccine and who would not. So, we’re prepping for that possibility coming up soon.”

“I haven’t received very clear understanding yet of where does the offender population fall into that prioritization,” Graner added. “I’m guessing they’ll be similar to any congregate living type of facility such as a nursing home. Maybe the prisons will be in with that. They might be tier three, right after the essential staff get it.”

“Sam (Wentz) from public health has been doing a wonderful job of keeping us apprised of the vaccine and the rollout plan for the vaccine,” Graner added.

“Prior to these 21 positive cases, we were testing any of our new arrestees and transfers,” Graner said. “We had four positive cases over the last couple of months. The thing with those individuals was they were already isolated and in quarantine when we discovered those positive cases, so things were well contained at that time. But now with that general population test, it triggered the full-scale testing and unfortunately, that’s where we’re at.”

Graner said the jail keeps in contact with state health department. He added he had “reached out to other jail administrators in the state to see what sort of lessons have been learned in any of their positive cases.”

Graner said he keeps the US Marshals Service informed as well “because it does impact some federal offenders, too.”

“Once we go through this week’s testing and have those results, we’ll have a better idea of what our next steps are, because obviously those who are in isolation will have spent a 10-day isolation period,” Graner said. “So, many of those tests taken on the 10th will be clearing by this weekend. We’ll continue to use the data that we have at our fingertips to make our next move.”

“We’re all making sacrifices to try to keep people safe. It’s unfortunate, because I think our mitigation efforts have been successful. It’s unfortunate that we’re dealing with 21 positive cases now,” Graner said.

“I’m very proud of our staff,” Graner added.

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