COVID-19 outbreak causes Bartholomew County jail to lock down

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BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind.––Officials at the Bartholomew County jail are working to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected nearly half the inmates in the building.

This past weekend, 91 of 211 inmates tested positive for CCOVID-19, along with four jail employees.

Indiana State Health Strike teams came to the jail to test all inmates after several inmates developed symptoms and tested positive over the course of the last week.  

Sheriff Matt Myers says jail staff have moved cell blocks in order to keep inmates who tested positive separate from those who tested negative. Four inmates who refused to be tested are also in quarantine.

Lockdown at the jail means no visitors, including attorneys, are being allowed in the building. Sheriff Myers expects that to last until the end of February. Meanwhile, Myers says the staff will continue to follow sanitation and screening protocols outlined by the health department.

“This jail staff, since March, has been able to keep the COVID numbers manageable and very low,” Myers said.

Julie Miller says she had a bad feeling about an outbreak when she spoke to her son, who is an inmate in the jail, on January 15.

“He’s just telling me, ‘Mom, I’m sick,’” Miller said. “He said ‘I can tell you that everyone in my cell block has the symptoms.’”

While Miller believes the jail staff are doing the best they can, she also thinks the jail was too slow to react to the virus’ spread.

“I don’t think they took it seriously enough soon enough,” she said. “It had to have been swimming around in there for a while, which would have concerned everyone.”

Sheriff Myers says the jail has received multiple calls from people asking for their loved ones to be released early in order to avoid the virus. He says only inmates who have less than 30 days left to serve, and who do not represent a threat to the community, are considered for early release. 

And, he says, that’s up to the courts.

“I think people think that if you have a COVID outbreak in the jail, people automatically are going to be released,” Myers said. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Myers said jail employees will continue to screen incoming inmates for anyone showing symptoms.

“We will not put them in the jail, and they will go to the hospital and get tested,” he said.

New inmates are also being held in quarantine before joining the general population, which has been jail procedure throughout the pandemic. Anyone showing symptoms will be tested, which is also standard practice at jails across the state, Myers said.

After a month of lockdown and separation of inmates, Myers said anyone showing symptoms will have to test negative before rejoining the general jail population.  However, he also said things could get worse before they get better.

“I’ll be honest with you, it would not surprise me if, pretty much, eventually everybody will probably get it in the jail,” Myers said.

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