The Labette County Jail in Oswego has 12 inmates and one jailer who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The testing was conducted a week ago Tuesday and the results came back later last week. Testing now takes place every Tuesday.
So far, only one COVID-19-positive inmate, a 50-year-old man jailed on probation violations, has been hospitalized at Labette Health’s COVID-19 unit since Monday because of the virus. He remained hospitalized on Wednesday, but Sheriff Darren Eichinger said he expects the inmate to be released soon.
On Wednesday afternoon, Eichinger did not have the results of Tuesday’s testing, which is conducted by the nurse staff contracted to work in the jail and by Kansas Department of Health and Environment staff.
On Dec. 11, Eichinger reported that a jailer had tested positive for the virus, though the illness was discovered after the jailer had already worked his last shift. This prompted additional testing. On Dec. 13, Eichinger reported that two inmates had tested positive as well.
The Dec. 15 testing revealed the spread of the virus in the inmate population.
Eichinger said KDHE sent the jail 800 test kits. Testing will continue until all tests for two weeks do not turn up positive results.
Inmates who test positive are not being retested for now.
“They are just testing everybody that was negative the first round,” Eichinger said.
Inmates with the virus are isolated together in two- or four-man cells, he said. The jailer who tested positive is isolating at home.
Eichinger said as long as an inmate is in the hospital he rotates deputies onto security watch there.
The security remains unless the inmate makes bond or a judge releases the inmate.
The Labette County inmate was one of at least two county jail inmates at Labette Health. Montgomery County also has had an inmate hospitalized for treatment. Montgomery County Sheriff Ron Wade said the inmate has been in and out the hospital three times since Thursday for COVID. Wade did not name the inmate.
On Monday, Montgomery County District Judge Jeffrey D. Gossard ordered a medical furlough for the inmate, Gary Lee Johnson, 68, who is being held on a couple of 2017 cases, one alleging first-degree murder, according to case file. The furlough allowed the sheriff to release the security detail. The order read that once Johnson was to be released, the hospital would call the jail to pick him up and return him to the county jail in Independence.
Wade said pulling the security detail raised concerns among hospital staff so on Tuesday the matter returned to court to ask for the furlough to be withdrawn. Judge Gossard signed that order Tuesday and the security detail was to return the same day, Wade said.
Johnson is accused of shooting and killing a man on May 22, 2017. The case is set for jury trial March 15-19, 2021.
Johnson returned to jail in Independence on Wednesday.
Wade said only one inmate has tested positive for COVID-19.
Montgomery County is taking precautions similar to other counties by quarantining new inmates in the jail for up to 14 days before moving them to the general population. This is one of several safety measures in place. The Montgomery County Jail in Independence can hold up to 78 inmates and the jail has room available to quarantine ill inmates. Nursing staff is available eight hours a day but the jail is not equipped to care for seriously ill inmates.
“Nobody’s equipped for the COVID situation,” Wade said.
While the inmates have remained healthy, road deputies have had to quarantine or isolate as have others in law enforcement when they get sick with the virus or are a contact to a positive case. He said about half of the sheriff’s office staff has been on quarantine or tested positive.
Neosho County and Crawford County jails have so far had no positive COVID cases among the inmate populations.
Neosho County Undersheriff Greg Taylor said a couple of jailers are in quarantine or waiting on test results. He said the jail, which can hold 80 inmates, has received grants to purchase personal protective equipment including an air filtration system and a breathing apparatus that a jailer can use in case he or she has to work with an inmate with COVID. The filtration system should be complete in January.
Crawford County Sheriff Danny Smith said his jail has remained COVID-free. He said he and an administrative staffer have tested positive for the virus, but no one else in the 70-employee office has. He said some road deputies have had to quarantine because of family members who became ill.
Smith said he hopes safety protocols in place have helped keep the inmate population healthy.
“The numbers tell you that you should at some point in time have something,” Smith said.
In Southeast Kansas counties, Crawford County has had the largest number of COVID cases since the pandemic began. As of Wednesday, KDHE reported 3,159 total cases in Crawford, 1,579 in Cherokee, 1,679 in Labette, 1,985 in Montgomery, 1,075 in Neosho and 579 in Wilson.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything different than anybody else. But we’ve been able to keep it out of our jail. So we’ve been really lucky there,” Smith said.
“But I think it just hasn’t been our turn yet. And, hopefully, we will be able to maintain that. We’re just trying to make sure we keep our inmates safe and our staff safe as we can.”