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COVID outbreak at jail prompts scrutiny

County jail safety was the topic of discussion both in Columbus and in Marietta on Tuesday.

Protocols are under scrutiny at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office following an outbreak of coronavirus at the Washington County Jail at the close of January.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, also spoke at an afternoon press conference concerning a proposed remodel of funding for county jails.

¯ COVID Outbreak

Chief Deputy Mark Warden confirmed Tuesday that the county jail has experienced recent confirmed cases of the coronavirus making its way through pods of the jail.

“We’ve got a rash if it in the pods,” explained Warden. “The problem is when they are asymptomatic and we don’t have places to isolate.”

This was also noted in Washington County Common Pleas Court hearings Tuesday with appearances made virtually via teleconference from the county jail rather than through transport to the courthouse with officials of the court noting that only the Washington County Jail had noted presence of the virus, impeding a potential transfer of an inmate to the Noble County Jail on Tuesday morning.

Warden noted that inmates had tested positive starting in the final weeks of January, which then appeared to result in a staff member at the jail also testing positive.

Moving forward, Warden said the facility is looking to implement testing any entrant into the jail, with the goal of all inmates and staff to be tested.

“The purpose would be to stop it before it comes in,” said Warden. “Because once it’s in here, none of the beds move, the tables don’t move and that’s like their home while they’re there.”

Warden said masks are distributed to all inmates, but enforcement for wearing them while within the pods of the jail is difficult.

“So is social distancing,” added Warden.

He noted that the jail’s nursing staff works in direct consultation with Dr. Michael Brockett as it builds its next testing programming, alongside communication with the Washington County Health Department when inmates begin presenting symptoms.

Note: The Times logged a public records request with the department Friday to determine what contingency plans are in place for the tracking of required reportable conditions as required by the Ohio Department of Health.

The Times has also requested protocols for testing for the virus within the county jail and overtime accounting due to coronavirus within the department.

As of press time Tuesday, the Times requests were not yet fulfilled.

A special meeting of the Washington County Board of Health is scheduled for today at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will be conducted at the Washington County Emergency Operations Center conference room of 304 Davis Ave.

Funding

“This is a personal issue to my home in the 94th House District,” said Edwards. “The Meigs County Jail permanently closed last month for multiple reasons. But if this legislation had been in place, the jail would still be open and operating. Although this bill would exponentially improve jails in Southeastern Ohio, it would also have an outstanding effect on the quality of jails across the whole state.”

According to Edwards and co-sponsor State Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, House Bill 101 would establish a construction funding formula similarly structured to the state’s school construction formula which is what Warren Local Schools District utilized to fund much of its ongoing building project (see Thursday’s edition of the Times for an update on that discussion).

According to their joint release, the proposal would allow the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to work in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Correction to develop the funding formula based on the following factors:

¯ Rank counties and award them funds based on need, such as income per capita, property value and sales tax revenue capacity.

¯ Develop a matching program where the state will match a certain percentage of construction of a county jail based on the same factors used in ranking. Similarly to the school construction formula, state dollars would only be used for construction costs.

¯ OFCC and ODC will work directly with the respective county to establish the best possible solution for a new jail using projections of use and other means of establishing the size of a jail.

If the bill passes, the program would be funded through the state capital budget on the biennium. The last capital budget allocated $50 million for jail construction.

***

If you go

¯ A special meeting of the Washington County Board of Health is scheduled for today at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will be conducted at the Washington County Emergency Operations Center conference room of 304 Davis Ave.

¯ Agenda:

1. Unemployment compensation; an undisclosed number of employees impacted.

2. Appointment of an acting director of nursing following the removal of the former director last week without her attendance.

3. The continued open position of administrator of the department; vacant since Nov. 23, 2020. The position requires a minimum education level of a completed bachelor’s degree.

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