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COVID total hits 22, reaches jail complex

Staff writer

Marion County’s total number of COVID-19 cases swelled again Thursday, reaching 22 confirmed or probable cases.

For the first time the county confirmed that what has been a disastrous situation elsewhere is happening here.

The virus has reached either employees or inmates in Marion County’s combination jail and sheriff’s office.

“We had a positive test in the building,” undersheriff David Huntley said.

He would not confirm or deny rumors that a jailer had tested positive but did say someone in the building, which houses boths offices and cells, had tested positive for the virus.

One new laboratory-confirmed case and two new probable cases were disclosed Thursday by county health officials.

The only bits of information that the county would release about past cases were age ranges and genders. These, however, were not disclosed about the lastest victim.

Fully 10 of the 22 cases are considered “active,” meaning they have not been symptom-free for at least three days after their diagnosis.

A probable case is when a patient meets all criteria for the disease or developed symptoms after being exposed but has not yet been tested by a laboratory.

County health administrator Diedre Serene would not say whether anyone at the sheriff’s office and jail had actually been diagnosed. Confirmation came only from Huntley.

“The facility — or, if it’s a school, or at any business — I will not confirm that unless we have a public health reason to confirm that,” Serene said. “I’m not at liberty. I just can’t.”

Huntley said the sheriff’s office was taking appropriate steps to prevent further cases.

“We sanitized the building and are waiting to see if anybody else shows up with any symptoms,” he said.

Serene said she thought more than simply sanitizing was being done at the jail and sheriff’s office.

“They have a plan, and I think they’re doing more than sanitizing,” she said. “If any facility calls me, I make recommendations. There are guidelines. We tell them to follow Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidelines. There are recommendations for law enforcement.”

KDHE’s guidelines for law enforcement are largely the same as COVID-19 guidelines for anyone. The guidelines include maintaining a six-foot distance — which can be difficult within cells — along with washing hands frequently and avoiding touching the face.

Guidelines specific to law enforcement agencies include:

  • Sanitize frequently touched items such as phones, laptops, patrol car interiors, and equipment.
  • Have a trained emergency medical technician assess and transport anyone thought to have COVID-19 to a health care facility. If the person refuses transport, take precautions when taking the person into custody by wearing durable gloves and eye protection.
  • Do safe and efficient custodial searches.
  • Sanitize gloves and hands after taking someone into custody and operating a vehicle, computer or other equipment.
  • Ensure only trained personnel wearing appropriate protective equipment have contact anyone suspected to have COVID-19.
  • Complete all evidence collection, sampling, and testing before using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Serene reiterated that she predicted cases would go up when the state canceled stay-at-home orders.

“Wear the masks when in public,” Serene said. “My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.”

Commissioners last week defied a governor’s order that people wear masks in public and changed it to a recommendation.

Commissioner Jonah Gehring on Thursday was surprised to hear about the COVID-19 case related to the sheriff’s office and jail.

“This is the first I’ve known,” he said. “I really don’t know how to comment on it at this time. I see the nightmare that’s been happening in some of those places where this has happened.”

The sheriff’s department reportedly was informed of the diagnosis a day before it was confirmed by the undersheriff. Local law enforcement officers reportedly were advised to limit contact with personnel in the sheriff's office and jail complex.

Last modified July 10, 2020

 

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