DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A total of 112 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week inside the Durham County Detention Center, the sheriff’s office said Thursday afternoon.
“The sheriff’s office and the Durham County Detention Facility has seen an increase in COVID cases amongst our detainee population since the Omicron surge,” Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said in a briefing to public health leadership. “After testing the entire facility over the past week, as of today (Thursday), we have 112 detainees with COVID.”
The sheriff’s office said the detention center has a total of 368 detainees, so as of now, nearly 33-percent of the jail population has the virus.
Wednesday evening, Birkhead notified Durham County leadership about a recent rise in COVID-19 cases at the detention facility.
In December, medical staff began to notice a rise in the number of positive cases in people arriving at the detention facility during the intake process, a news release said.
“As has been our practice for almost two years, all incoming detainees are screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and quarantined before entering the general population,” the news release said.
Furthermore, due to the rapid uptick, need for increased testing and the possible need for ventilation, the sheriff’s office said it will be submitting an emergency funding request to the Board of Commissioners within the next few days in order to implement short and long-term measures.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t tell CBS 17 on Thursday how many total employees have tested positive for COVID. However, according to the NCDHHS’s COVID-19 Ongoing Outbreaks in Congregate Living Settings Report, as of Jan. 18, 23 staff members at the Durham County Detention Center had COVID.
Kevin Wilson, an infectious disease practitioner, said the 112 cases are a significant percentage. He said he has helped give guidance to the sheriff’s office on COVID-19 protocols. He thinks the sheriff’s office is doing what it can with the omicron variant.
“It spreads like the proverbial wildfire,” Wilson said. “You can take all the right steps, and you can still get it.”
He said that having this many cases puts the inmates and staff who do not have COVID-19 at risk.
“The more people have it, the more virus is going to be in the air,” Wilson said.
The sheriff’s office did not say Thursday what its plan is for isolating these 112 detainees. Wilson said quarantining this many detainees in the jail will be almost impossible.
“You can’t spread out 112 people in a jail,” Wilson said. “By the time you’ve isolated someone that’s got COVID, the damage has probably been done.”
The sheriff’s office said it will continue to screen all incoming detainees and staff when they come in the jail, and they will conduct mass testing to try to catch asymptomatic cases.
They said they also plan to continue to make masks available for all detainees, require mandatory wearing of PPE for all employees, increase access to video visitation with tablets, and institute random mass testing for staff and detainees.