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Roanoke jail reports 53 cases of COVID-19 among inmates

Roanoke jail reports 53 cases of COVID-19 among inmates

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A new round of mass testing carried out at the Roanoke City Jail has found 53 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and another 14 cases among staff, according to the Roanoke City Sheriff’s Office.

The blanket testing was initiated this week in response to new cases that started appearing the week before, officials said.

The results, announced Thursday, show a 12.4% positivity rate among the current inmate population of 427 people and an 8.4% positivity rate among the staff of 166 officers and other employees.

The jail is working closely with the health department, officials said, and regular testing will continue until positive results cease or medical advisors feel it can be scaled back.

In Virginia, correctional officers and inmates are newly eligible for vaccinations under the Phase 1b plans announced Jan. 8.

The rollout of those plans is occurring in stages as supplies allow, however. The city jail said its officers began receiving their first dose of vaccine about two weeks ago.

A timeline for expanding vaccinations to inmates is still pending. Phase 1b also extends eligibility to teachers, people age 65 or older, grocery store workers, manufacturing workers, people with underlying health conditions and several other categories. About half of Virginians are currently eligible.

The city jail, in a statement, said it is working with health officials and would start offering the vaccine to inmates as soon as it could. It also noted that its resurgence in cases is occurring at a time when caseloads across the state have been on the rise.

Since the start of the pandemic, COVID cases have been reported at the Western Virginia Regional Jail, New River Valley Regional Jail, Franklin County Jail and Roanoke County/Salem Jail.

The Roanoke City Jail was the first to announce an outbreak, with 14 inmates and 14 employees testing positive last summer.

The facility has had stretches of being virus-free since then, said a spokeswoman. To date, a total of 81 inmates and 55 employees at the jail have tested positive for COVID.

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