1,200 Colorado Inmates Were Rarely Given Masks— And Then Most of Them Tested Positive for Coronavirus

Inmate in handcuffs
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More than 1,200 inmates inside the El Paso County jail were not provided masks until the first week of November just days before the majority of the prisoners and over 70 staff members tested positive for coronavirus, according to a report. About 911 inmates and 73 staff members tested positive for the virus on Nov. 9, the Denver Post reported, citing department data. 

“The masks were not provided all the way across the population until the week of Nov. 1,” El Paso County sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Deborah Mynatt said Wednesday.

Inmates were reportedly not provided masks with the exception of when they were visiting the courthouse, walking through the facility, or unless a medical provider decided otherwise, the outlet reported.

The guidance for detention facilities provided by the Center for Disease Control states that facilities should provide all inmates with masks at no cost as well as frequently wash them.

“We will stress that wearing a mask will slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” the sheriff's website states.

The number of inmates infected means that three in every four inmates in the prison have contracted the virus. Of the total inmate population, 89% of the inmates inside the El Paso County jail have yet to be convicted and are being held there pre-trial because they were either not granted or could not afford bond.

The data shows that the outbreak at the jail is the second-largest recorded in the state after the University of Colorado Boulder which recorded 1,766 cases, the outlet reported. About 27 other correctional facilities also recorded outbreaks as of Nov. 11.

The number of inmates with the virus went down to 148 by last Wednesday, according to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office who attributed the plummet to inmates who left the facility or were outside of the 10-day infectious period.

“We have taken the guidance from the CDC which include creating ways to reinforce hygiene practices; intensifying cleaning and disinfection of the facility; regular symptom screening for new intakes, visitors, and staff; continued communication with incarcerated/detained persons and staff; social distancing measures; as well as testing symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals in our facility,” the sheriff's office spokesperson Sgt. Deborah Myantt told the Post. 

The outlet reported that the El Paso County Sheriff's Office traced the outbreak to the week of Oct. 26 when two inmates were scheduled to be transferred to prison. Neither inmate tested positive, but the sheriff's office decided to conduct more tests, the outlet reported.

With more tests, came more positive results. Many of the inmates were showing no symptoms, Mynatt said. The office has installed a new air filter in the ventilation system, which was placed there to reduce exposure to airborne disease.

The jail was also reportedly able to reduce its population size before the pandemic began by about 500 inmates.

“The thought was there in the very beginning that this may, like any disease in any jail, grow like wildfire if you can’t identify it quick enough,” Mynatt said. “That’s what we feared.”



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