COVID-19 has hit Russell County Detention Center, Jailer Bobby Dunbar told WJRS News, as 22 inmates have tested positive for the virus and several others have been exposed as of Friday night.
No staff members have tested positive as of Friday night, Dunbar said.
Dunbar said that RCDC was notified on Thursday by authorities that a couple individuals who had been released on parole from the facility to halfway houses tested positive for COVID-19.
“As we’ve been trained to do, we contacted the local health department, the Department of Corrections, and we reported to them what had been reported to us,” Dunbar said. “We immediately contacted a medical provider for what we needed and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate Dr. Eric Loy and the staff at Cumberland Family Medical for their quick reaction to our need.”
Early Friday morning, every inmate and staff member took a COVID-19 test. Dunbar said 110 inmates were tested. Follow-up tests are going to be conducted in “four or five days.”
“We’re going to continue to stay in close contact with our local health officials and Department of Corrections as we move forward,” Dunbar said.
Inmates who tested positive were moved to cells where they would be isolated from other inmates and inmates who were exposed were also moved to separate cells.
Dunbar said the detention center is restricting movement of inmates inside the facility in order to slow the spread of the virus.
The jail has also put a pause on new inmate intakes until further notice, Dunbar said.
“Anyone who is arrested will just be transferred to another facility,” Dunbar said.
Since the onset of the pandemic last March, Dunbar said the jail has been fortunate to not have any issues with the virus inside the facility, but Dunbar said he and the RCDC staff always knew that it was a possibility that an outbreak could occur.
“Since this started, we’ve never once thought this couldn’t happen to us,” Dunbar said. “We’ve followed our protocol, increased certain protocols in order to try our best to keep this virus out. I think 54 county jails have had outbreaks and that’s excluding prisons. So I think we’ve done a good job for the past 11 months following protocols and recommendations, but one healthcare worker told me that it was simply our turn. We’ve made it for 11 months, so I’m thankful for that.”
When the pandemic started, Dunbar said he and the staff sat down to create their own protocols due to confusion at the state level about how to handle COVID-19 inside a corrections facility.
“There was just so much unknown at the time,” Dunbar said. “We developed a Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 protocol plan for our facility. We purchased as much PPE as we could get as it became available, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
As the detention center moves forward in trying to keep the situation under control, Dunbar said he’s thankful for the staff at RCDC as well as Russell County Emergency Management Director H.M. Bottom for supplying the jail with proper PPE.
“I have to give a big thank you to H.M. Bottom for helping provide us with N94 masks that we really needed,” Dunbar said. “Also I need to give a big thank you to my staff. Unless you have ever worked in corrections, you just don’t have a clue about the things we go through at times.”
In the days moving ahead, Dunbar simply asked that the community pray for the detention center staff and inmates.
“I just ask you to pray for us in the days ahead,” Dunbar said.