BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – With one test result pending, the Brevard County Jail is otherwise free and clear of novel coronavirus cases, according to the latest update from Sheriff Wayne Ivey, though questions linger about what testing and tracing protocol is in place, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
“As of today’s date, I can report that there are no confirmed active COVID-19 cases within the Brevard County Jail Complex inmate population and the only pending test is due to pre-admission protocol for a State Hospital transfer,” Ivey wrote in a letter Wednesday to the eighteenth judicial circuit’s top officials.
The running total of inmate cases grew by one, to 61 cases, since the last update, but all 61 had been “cleared from medical isolation.”
The number of jail staff testing positive so far remained unchanged at 17, all of whom were reported cleared for duty.
Ivey restated the jail’s numerous disinfection and disease prevention protocols, including quarantine periods for new inmates, increased hygiene supply and laundry cleaning, additional medical screening and limiting access to the jail to essential personnel. Face coverings are mandated for all persons in the Jail.
When an inmate tests positive, they are notified and additional quarantine measures are put in place along with “healthcare provided re-education and awareness for each inmate.”
When staff tests positive “notification is made to any individual at the Jail Complex who has been identified to have had close contact with the employee in the 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms, or the date of the positive test for asymptomatic employees.”
Sheriff’s office spokesman Tod Goodyear said the prevention protocols have been a lot of extra work but that they are necessary.
“We have a lot of people in the jail, a lot of close contact that goes on between not ... only employees but inmates,” Goodyear said.
In the first several months of the Pandemic, from March through July 29 when the first inmate tested positive, just 9 tests had been carried out at the Jail. Then, following the discovery of a second positive case, a man who collapsed and was tested at a local hospital as a routine intake protocol, a team from the Department of Health carried out “preemptive” testing Aug. 6 in a cell block at the Jail of 174 inmates, yielding 54 positive results.
At that time, DOH-Brevard administrator Maria Stahl wrote to the BCSO summarizing the observations of the department’s epidemiologist, Barry Inman, and making recommendations for the jail to put in place, including “aggressive surveillance and testing for inmates with suspicious signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”
Inman speaking to FLORIDA TODAY earlier this month said he only visited the one section of the Jail where DOH tested 174 inmates “because that was the only area that we were seeing any, any kind of positive possible cases at that point.”
Commenting on the rate of positive cases detected at that time, Inman said it was consistent with what has been observed at correctional facilities across the country.
“Wherever you have a large group of individuals that are in close confined quarters like that, it’s not to be unexpected that you might have a high prevalence there of asymptomatic or, and of course you know, some some symptomatic patients,” he said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for correctional institutions, which were updated on Aug. 10, state that, in the absence of an aggressive testing and tracing protocol, routine testing should take place.
“If contact tracing is not practicable, or if there is concern for widespread transmission following identification of new-onset SARS-CoV-2 infection among IDP (inmates) or staff, facility management should consider a broader testing strategy, beyond testing only close contacts within the facility, to reduce the chances of a large outbreak,” the guidelines state.
“Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts of IDP and staff with COVID-19 be quickly identified and tested,” according to the guidelines.
The CDC further states that "facilities in communities with moderate to substantial levels of community transmission can consider the following:
- Baseline testing for all current IDP.
- Testing all new IDP at intake before they join the rest of the population in the facility, and housing them individually while test results are pending to prevent potential transmission."
Inquiries about whether the Jail instituted a testing and tracing program versus broad-based testing went unaddressed by a spokesperson for the Jail’s vendor for healthcare services, Corizon Health, who in an email Wednesday wrote: “We perform contact tracing per CDC guidelines and in collaboration with the Health Department.”
Inman, the DOH epidemiologist, said he observed cells occupied by two to three inmates, but noted as mitigating factors the use of masks and the use of alcohol hand-rinse, which he said had to be squirted into an inmate’s hands by a deputy for security reasons.
“Yeah, it’s somewhat crowded,but then again you know there’s a lot of places that are crowded, and the sheriff’s staff there is doing the very best they can. They took all of our recommendations and implemented them. And that and they seem to be, you know, they’re holding steady, they’re doing well,” he said.
While Inman said DOH-Brevard hasn’t physically been back to the jail to monitor implementation, they’ve been “in close contact.” He also noted that a DOH team conducted an educational visit, and likely conducted 50-60 tests at the time.
However, the scale and scope of testing conducted by the BCSO’s vendor was not routinely reported to DOH-Brevard.
“Those are tests we may not know about,” he said, clarifying the any positive cases were certainly reported. “I know there’s been more testing going on but I can’t give you those exact numbers because if they’re doing their own testing.”
After initially declining to release testing numbers, Corizon Wednesday said the total number of tests conducted so far was 228. This means that 63 tests have been conducted since the first DOH round of testing on Aug. 6.
DOH-Brevard did not reply to inquiries Thursday about whether this number of tests was sufficient. In the meantime, the inmate population continues to grow, from a low in April of around 1300, to a near pre-pandemic headcount of 1533 Thursday, according to public defender Blaise Trettis.
Commenting on the apparent drop in new cases earlier in September, Inman said “if you put the infection control practices and if you implement them very aggressively you can see a downturn that’s pretty significant.”
That said, Inman cautioned vigilance and said there are no guarantees as any institution, not just the jail, remains susceptible so long as the coronavirus remains evident in the community.
“I can’t guarantee anything in any place with that this virus is is very evident in the community,” he said.