Hall County Jail has had a couple of close calls with the coronavirus, but the jail has reacted to the virus and hasn’t “had anything get out of control,” said Hall County Corrections Director Todd Bahensky.
A few weeks ago, the jail received an inmate who had symptoms “that we sent to the hospital to get tested and then put him directly into the infirmary,” Bahensky said.
The test came back positive and the inmate was released shortly after that, he said. The virus didn’t spread to anyone at the jail.
A corrections officer, who wasn’t showing any symptoms, was one of the people sent to Fonner Park to be tested by the National Guard. That guard tested positive.
“The officer was off work for the required amount of time that the Health Department recommended, and we isolated that unit for a couple weeks,” Bahensky said. No one was infected.
The infirmary at the jail consists of four cells, which have negative air flow.
“Anytime somebody comes in with any sort of a potential communicable disease, we put them in there at least until we determine how we’re going to deal with them,” Bahensky said.
The jail staff has had a number of people who’ve had some symptoms and have been off for a period of time until they got tested.
“But so far, all those people were ill with something else,” he said. They were not COVID-19 positive.
All of the corrections officers wear masks. The inmates also wear masks whenever they’re out of their cells.
Members of the office staff don masks when they leave their private offices “and when we’re interacting with each other,” Bahensky said.
Corrections officers “have been doing a great job. They’ve taken it seriously and are doing what they need to do. I think that’s made a huge difference,” Bahensky said.
Right from the beginning, the jail took a three-pronged approach, Bahensky said.
Precautions were put in place to screen people who were brought to the jail. If those people had symptoms or met certain criteria, “we would send them to be tested, and then we would isolate them in our infirmary until we got results,” he said.
The jail made sure officers had the equipment they needed, such as sanitizer.
“So there’s a lot of cleaning going on,” Bahensky said.
When you walk down the hall, you smell disinfectant and bleach, he said.
Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hall County Corrections also identified its at-risk population, such as those older than 60 and those with asthma. The jail isolated them, checked on them regularly and made sure they weren’t showing any symptoms.
Jail employees also prepared themselves “for what may happen if it does get in here,” Bahensky said.
With the help of other agencies with whom the jail contracts, the number of inmates was reduced.
Although criminal activity has started to pick up again a little bit, the courts have been great at “working with us,” Bahensky said.
Judges have postponed court appearances when they can, and law enforcement has been good about citing people instead of putting them in jail, he said.
On Tuesday, the jail had 186 inmates. Over the last year or so, the population has been around 280.
When the jail is pushing capacity, it’s hard to have extra cells to isolate inmates and move them around.
Having a lower inmate number and more cells available “makes it much easier for us to manage the situation,” Bahensky said.