HOWARD COUNTY, Ind. — Up until two weeks ago, Howard County Sheriff Jerry Asher thought his staff had done a good job keeping the COVID-19 virus out of his jail.
“We’ve got a disinfecting machine that helps us clean large areas,” Asher said during a recent briefing on Facebook. “We also bought two atomizing backpack sprayers that almost constantly move around the facility getting anything people sit down, touch, rest room areas, open day rooms, the handrails. We’ve increased the numbers of bars and soap to our indigent inmates so we can facilitate that hand cleaning.”
COVID screenings were done at arrestee intake, court hearings went virtual, visitations were halted, PPE was passed out and some offenders were released while others were quarantined.
Turned out it wasn’t enough.
Last Friday Asher announced the COVID outbreak in his jail jumped from one inmate worker the week before to 226 at the time of the briefing to another 50 as of Wednesday among an offender population of 441.
62.5% of the men and women locked up inside the Howard County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19.
Ashley Byars’ fiancé is one of them.
“I don’t understand how from one case it went to almost 300 people. It just makes no sense,” she said. “Now he’s been infected, he’s got the disease, he has the infections, so it’s like, he wouldn’t have gotten that if he was home.”
Byars’ boyfriend is in jail for a probation violation and is awaiting a court hearing.
“Its three people in a room with him,” said Byars who heard from her boyfriend for the first time in five days Tuesday. “Yesterday they decided to give them iPads …and then they’re also sharing headphones, so I don’t understand and so I guess that’s the only way they’re letting them communicate. They won’t actually let them walk out of their units or out of their cells to use the phone and not let people call to say, ‘Hey, I’m okay.’”
By comparison, the Marion County Jail system with 1862 offenders behind bars lists six who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
In Johnson County, 32 of 355 offenders have tested positive.
In Hamilton and Hancock counties, authorities report no positive cases among the offender populations.
“I want to reassure the families, I realize it’s getting into Thanksgiving and holiday season, a lot of times it’s very difficult for inmates to be housed inside the jail at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we just want you to know that the care of our inmates is obviously utmost and we’ve done everything that we can, follow the guidelines, that we’ve done and hopefully everybody stays safe,” said Asher. “I just know that most of the folks that we tested positive that we were able to test had some mild symptoms and we were able to take care of.”
Asher did not return a request for an update interview Wednesday.