Seven Orangeburg County Detention Center employees in Orangeburg, South Carolina have tested positive for COVID-19, according to officials.
Orangeburg County administrator Harold Young told FITSNews Wednesday that five officers and two civilian staff members have tested positive for coronavirus. In addition, three officers are currently in self-isolation after family members have tested positive for the virus.
None of the 202 inmates in the jail have tested positive, according to Young.
Local attorneys, however, are still concerned that inmates have been exposed to COVID-19 and just haven’t been tested. In a court motion obtained by FITSNews, an attorney asked the court to reconsider an inmate’s order continuing a bond decision and cited coronavirus concerns as a reason the court should grant the inmate bond.
In the motion filed Wednesday, the attorney said that there are suspected inmates who present symptoms and have not yet been tested and the attorney accused Orangeburg County officials of not taking the virus seriously and “apparently not alerting others who may come in contact with infected employees and the staff of the county.”
The court document also said that an Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Deputy working at the courthouse tested positive for COVID-19 recently.
Young said the detention center has been taking extra safety precautions since the pandemic began. They have suspended all on site visitation and staff are required to wear face masks at all times.
“Officers and medical staff screen inmates upon entering the facility and place them in a monitoring area for 14 days,” he wrote in an email. “If the inmates have not been bonded out during this time, they are screened again and moved to a general population area.”
In addition, Young said that Orangeburg County Detention Center staff are screened and have their temperature checked prior to reporting to their job assignment or prior to any contact with inmates.”
Employees are also told to stay home if they are sick and must immediately tell their supervisor if they begin feeling ill while at work or if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
“If inmates are moved in the facility or out of the facility for any purpose they wear masks,” Young told FITSNews.
COVID in Jails and Prisons
COVID-19 is running rampant in prisons and jails across the United States, PBS News recently reported.
“Jails and prisons and ICE detention centers, they’re really created, physically, in a manner that promotes the spread of communicable disease. And COVID-19, we know, is very easily spread from people, one person to another,” former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system Dr. Homer Venters told PBS. “And so the close contact that people are in when they’re detained, when they’re in housing areas, other parts of these facilities really promotes the spread between both the people who are detained and staff.”
South Carolina’s prisons have been hit hard by COVID-19, too. Just last week advocates for South Carolina’s incarcerated inmate population held a rally in Irmo to raise awareness of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on prisoners across the Palmetto State, our founding editor Will Folks reported.
“They are killing these guys,” one prison reform advocate told us.
As of July 21, the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) prison system has reported a total of 656 offenders and 234 staff members infected with COVID-19 and 162 inmates and 116 staff who have been cleared.
Those numbers have recently surged.
As of July 10, 2020, SCDC was reporting a total of 399 inmate infections and 177 staff infections – with 123 inmate cases and 89 staff cases classified as “cleared.”
At least eight SCDC inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 have died during the pandemic. At least six of those people died in July.
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