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TV6 Investigates: COVID-19 in Iowa jails and prisons

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 1:21 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - A huge issue during this pandemic has been the higher rate of infection seen at residential facilities where social distancing just isn’t possible.

Jails and prisons provide the perfect environment for a virus to spread with overcrowding and constant traffic, coming in and out of a confined space.

Bryce Schmidt, the administrator for Scott County Jail says that an outbreak isn’t a matter of if, but when, stating “every day and every week that goes by is kind of a blessing because you know that you’re one day away from having an outbreak.”

Schmidt considers himself lucky for the low number of cases the facility has seen, so far only experiencing a handful of cases in inmates and about a dozen in staff since the beginning of the pandemic.

A number far beneath other jails and prisons in Iowa and Illinois, some of which have seen half or more of their inmate population infected at one time.

One theory over why infection rates continue to skyrocket in our correctional institutions relates to their transferring of inmates.

Danny Homan, Iowa’s chapter president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal of Employees, said in a November conference on COVID and Prison that inmates are not being quarantined for a consistent amount of time at each prison. “Many times those inmates end up at the receiving institution and test positive,” said Homan, which makes the rest of the population vulnerable to infection,

He argued that all facilities need a mandatory four week shut down to stop the spread within prison walls.

Homan’s solution, however, only answers for one cause of the spread. Another major concern is the staff that come and go each day. “We do worry not so much about inmates spreading it to other inmates,” said Schmidt.

In the case of Scott County Jail, the only way to prevent an outbreak is by taking every precaution seriously, which includes transferring inmates to provide more room for social distancing.

A practice which Schmidt admits could subject an inmate to infection if the other facility he or she has been transferred to has an outbreak.

“Our goal would be to cut it off before they would get into our general population,” said Schmidt.

There is no black and white solution to stopping the spread of COVID in correctional institutions but there is a better way of preventing it. During the conference, Homan and state representatives spoke on the issue of complaints that have come in from corrections officers around Iowa about proper safety protocols not being used or abided by.

The only way to fight the spread at this point in time is through consistent compliance with CDC protocols.

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