What happens in your county if the bulk of your workforce (you, deputies, jailers and dispatchers) or your entire inmate population suddenly becomes ill or must be quarantined for weeks due to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?
The purpose of this tool is to encourage you to consider the creation of policies and operational protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading to your employees and among your inmate population and to assist you in identifying ideas and resources to aid in that task. I have compiled some thoughts and resources below to help you better identify safety measures to consider incorporating into your daily job functions. These measures address both preventative and post-event preparations and are separated by discipline for patrol and jail operations.
You are well aware of the rapidly growing concerns over COVID-19 as it continues to spread throughout our country and state. As counties across our state increasingly declare states of emergency over this public health scare, we recognize that public safety employees and jail populations lack the ability to fully exercise many precautionary measures advocated for the general public.
Despite that fact, there are measures that can be put into place to help protect yourselves, your deputies and your jailers and your inmate populations. Failure to implement basic precautionary measures or to develop strategies for contingencies to maintain essential operations if your facilities become quarantined would be reckless and ill advised.
Practicing social distancing during work-related activities for patrol deputies is next to impossible given the requirements of the job, but attempts can be made to minimize encounters and limit the spread of exposures.
Suspend appearances at mass gatherings and civic group activities solely for public relations purposes. In the office environment, provide disinfectants and routinely clean frequently touched surfaces, such as phones, keyboards, countertops and doorknobs. Limit face-to-face meetings and shift briefings, encourage all personnel to practice staying about six feet apart in the office environment.
During this COVID-19 outbreak, consider issuing citations to low level offenders or following up with arrest warrants at a later time, whenever possible, in lieu of transporting individuals to jail. Meet with local police departmentss, the Department of Public Safety and prosecutors to further discuss this concept and encourage broader participation.
Provide deputies with precautions and information regarding what to do if close contact occurs during apprehensions, such as:
- Disinfect patrol vehicles prior to beginning shift activities and as often as may be necessary following inmate transports.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when practical and follow proper containment and disposal protocols after use.
- Upon undressing at the conclusion of each shift, avoid unnecessarily shaking the clothing. Contain and launder the clothing separately from other items.
- Clean and disinfect duty belt and gear using a spray or wipe prior to reuse (see the manufacturer’s recommendations prior to application).
- Ask deputies to report any potential threat of exposure they may experience to a supervisor by radio or telephone rather than in person.
- Ask deputies that exhibit possible symptoms of COVID-19 to not report to work.
Maintaining social distancing in jail settings will also be extremely difficult in most instances. Perform preventative cleaning and sanitizing measures frequently. Make hand sanitizer and disposable masks readily available for use by inmates that may be at risk of infection.
Governor Abbott has issued a disaster declaration for Texas over COVID-19 health concerns. Consider suspending or limiting the amount of face-to-face visitor contact experienced at your jail, such as inmate visitation, religious services and educational programs. Routinely provide information and reminders to inmates on the measures that are being taken to help ensure their safety and attempt to provide the inmates with alternatives until normal visitation standards can be re-established.
Ask correctional officers to take added precautions when performing intakes and bookings. In addition to questioning inmates about foreign travel, keep up with locations within the United States and Texas that have had outbreaks and ask about possible exposures in those areas. Develop and implement an additional screening tool to be used during your booking process. Questions to consider during this process include:
- Have you traveled in the past 30 days outside of the United States? If so, when and where.
- Do you have a history of traveling to or from Europe or Asia?
- In the past 30 days, have you had close contact with anyone known to have traveled to Europe or Asia or any state with a confirmed case of the virus?
- Have you traveled to areas within Texas or the U.S. that have reported outbreaks?
- Have you or anyone you've been in contact with had confirmed Coronavirus or been placed under quarantine? (The incubation period is two to14 days).
- Today or in the last seven days, have you had any of the following symptoms:
- Fever or feverish? (recommended to take temperature and document)
- Shortness of breath, or other symptoms of lower respiratory illness?
- Diarrhea? (bloody or black)
- Uncontrollable coughing?
If an individual is found to have potential illness issues upon intake, summon medical or make the determination whether to reject the inmate and refer him or her to a medical facility.
- Increase daily cleaning and disinfectant regimens in all inmate living areas, common areas and offices. Make sure to wipe all frequently used items such as computer keyboards, door handles, transport vehicles, any counter surfaces, phones (including cell phones), key fobs or any items that are frequently shared.
- It is recommended that you isolate anyone showing signs of the virus by utilizing the area of the jail that contains a dedicated air cell. If you do not have a dedicated air cell, consult with your medical provider for recommendations on what options you have available.
- Ask employees that exhibit possible symptoms of COVID-19 to not report to work.
Consider ordering additional personal protection equipment (disposable N-95 Masks or disposable Surgical Masks and Disposable Nitrile Gloves) and stock up on disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Remember, the Centers for Disease Control does NOT recommend that people who are well wear a face mask, but rather only those who show symptoms to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Call to action
Remember, it is always best to be proactive, instead of reactive. As with other disasters, the best plan of action is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Develop contingency plans now for how you would staff or depopulate your jail if employee absences grow to an unsafe level. Establish housing agreements with neighboring jurisdictions to house newly arrested inmates in the event that your jail came under quarantine because of a COVID-19 exposure or Coronavirus outbreak.
Remind staff and inmates to wash hands frequently and to not touch their faces. If a staff member or administrative personnel shows common symptoms of COVID-19, it is important to place them in a private room away from others and ask them to wear a face mask. Immediately notify your local health department. They will provide you with guidance.
Ask employees that feel ill or begin to display symptoms of COVID-19 to not report for work. Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment. Family members of employees may also become quarantined or infected, develop protocols for dealing with employee absences in those situations. Realize that family members of staff members may experience school or daycare closings. Ask your employees to develop strategies now for handling child care if those instances should arise.
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care is making its Standard on Infectious Disease Prevention and Control available to help you formulate policies and procedures for reducing the risk of infectious disease transmission, including COVID-19.
Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Correctional Facility from Dr. Anne Spaulding of Emory Center for the Health of Incarcerated Persons.
National Sheriffs' Association coronavirus Information