BOISE, Idaho — As the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S. and abroad, agencies in the Treasure Valley are setting up plans for how to deal with the threat of an outbreak in Idaho.
The Ada County Jail says they are developing strategies to deal with the possibility of an infected person being arrested and brought into the jail, as well as ways to make sure the virus did not spread to other inmates or staff.
As of Thursday morning, Idaho has no confirmed positive coronavirus cases.
Already, each inmate gets a health screening during the booking process. According to the sheriff's office, anyone who comes in with symptoms of coronavirus - including fever, cough, and shortness of breath - and tells staff they may have the illness or recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea, will be given a mask. That inmate will then be placed into a negative-pressure holding room, meaning a room in which the air is filtered and then sucked out.
A booking nurse will then perform a medical assessment. If the inmate has a temperature of over 100.4 degrees or respiratory issues, the jail will contact both the on-call medical provider and Central District Health to get that person tested as soon as possible.
Anyone who recently traveled to China but is not showing any symptoms, would also be placed in one of the negative pressure rooms and checked for fever every day over the next two weeks. The same process would apply if someone already in one of the dorms or a different area of the jail begins to show symptoms.
So far, according to the jail, there have been no inmates who have shown symptoms of coronavirus.
In the event of an outbreak, if there were multiple cases inside the jail and no hospital beds available in the community, the Ada County Jail is prepared to set up quarantine zones inside the facility, with separate areas for inmates who are elderly, pregnant, or have a chronic illness or compromised immune system.
All detention deputies and jail medical staff have access to equipment including masks, gloves and eye protection. Employees are also being encouraged to practice hygiene by washing their hands frequently, covering their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, avoiding touching their face, and disinfecting work stations frequently.
If an employee is exposed to someone with coronavirus, the sheriff's office will consider factors including how close they were and whether they were wearing protective equipment in deciding whether they will be sent home to self-quarantine for 14 days or can remain at work.
In a worst-case scenario, jail officials say, the Ada County Jail could still run with a 40 percent reduction in staff.
The jail may also consider limiting public access to the jail, and is working with 4th District Court officials to review the possibility of expanding alternative sentencing and pretrial release in the event that coronavirus becomes more widespread.
"We realize this is an uncertain time for our community, since we really don’t know what will happen with COVID-19. We also realize the jail presents unique issues in the case of a viral outbreak," the sheriff's office wrote. "We have been paying close attention to what is going on and continue to refine our plans on how to best manage whatever happens."
The Idaho Department of Correction is also closely monitoring the situation, and "stands ready to respond should a potential case of COVID-19 emerge at any of the department’s offices or facilities," according to a statement.
Staff and visitors who feel think they might be ill are being urged to stay home. Visiting is still being permitted as scheduled, but that could change: Any cancelations of visiting hours will be posted on IDOC's website and social media sites.
Visitors are being urged to check those sites for updates before traveling to any of the prisons.
In addition, IDOC has put in place screening at its reception and diagnostic units, reviewing emergency staffing plans, frequently cleaning common surfaces, and urging inmates, employees, and visitors alike to wash their hands.
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