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Mass testing at Western Virginia Regional Jail shows 25% of inmates have COVID-19

Mass testing at Western Virginia Regional Jail shows 25% of inmates have COVID-19

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Across-the-board testing at the Western Virginia Regional Jail in Roanoke County has found that approximately 230 inmates have COVID-19, the facility’s superintendent said Tuesday. That’s about 25% of the 830 individuals now housed there.

Roughly a dozen of the jail’s 250 staffers have also returned positive results, officials said.

Alerted last week to a cluster of inmate infections, the Virginia Department of Health chose to conduct mass testing Friday and into the weekend. Detainees were on lockdown until Monday, according to Superintendent Bobby Russell.

“We’re still in separation mode,” Russell said Tuesday, with positive cases housed together. He said most of the positives come from dorm units, minimum-security housing with boot camp-style layouts which make social distancing difficult.

Russell said no inmates have required hospitalization, and those with positive diagnoses will see a nurse twice daily and receive treatment for symptoms as they occur.

All inmates will be tested weekly for the next several weeks “until we stop having positives,” and staffers will get tests twice a week, Russell said.

Dr. Molly O’Dell, who heads the pandemic response for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, said the jail will also now send regular updates to the health department: “They’re monitoring positives. We’ll get a daily update on those individuals. They have to let us know if anyone becomes symptomatic.

“If they start developing symptoms, they’re going to treat them as if they have COVID,” O’Dell said.

Last week, after the mass testing first began, numerous inmates, who were still under lockdown, emailed The Roanoke Times with concerns about the virus, health issues and the handling of the outbreak.

“One of our public health nurses who went in said it was clean, organized, professional and everybody was concerned about how they could do better to prevent the spread of disease,” O’Dell said Tuesday. “This particular jail has been incredibly proactive. ... We went in and we did make some recommendations, but there was nothing major.”

“We are constantly cleaning the program areas, the high-touch areas. We are cleaning the pods twice a day,” Russell said.

The facility has also been working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which has provided additional supplies, and incoming inmates will be quarantined for 14 days.

Some prisoners questioned a recent transfer of inmates from Franklin County, who were brought in after an outbreak at that jail, but Russell said those transfers were temporary and were never part of the general population. While some Franklin County inmates are still at the regional jail, Russell said they were not part of that earlier group. Officials at Franklin County’s jail did not immediately respond to an email on Tuesday.

The New River Valley Regional Jail has one current case of coronavirus in its population of about 962 and three infections among the staff, Superintendent Gregory Winston wrote in an email. Those staffers are quarantining and the prisoner is asymptotic, according to Winston.

At the Montgomery County Jail, there are no instances of the virus among its 77 inmates, Capt. Kim Huang said.

The jails in Roanoke and Roanoke County on Tuesday said they currently have no positive inmate or staff cases of COVID-19.

Staff writer Mike Gangloff contributed information to this report.

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