Despite the surge of COVID-19 in northeastern Kentucky, two area jailers said efforts are being made to keep the number under control.
At the head of COVID-19 pandemic, jails were one of the first to adjust to the “new normal” — after all, with hundreds of guys and gals jammed into close quarters, it was only inevitable for the virus to spread like wildfire.
Despite the rise in COVID cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant — especially among the vaccine-hesitant — Boyd County Jailer Bill Hensley said his county lockup has only nine positive cases as of Wednesday.
While it’s easy to say getting into a protocol groove is part of the reason for the relatively low number, Hensley said the jail is “always trying something else.”
“COVID is unfortunately just a part of the job now,” he said. “Whenever a new inmate comes in, we test them Day 1, then Day 7 and Day 14. We keep stocked up on PPE — Tim England at Emergency Management is great at keeping us stocked up.”
One new way to combat the presence of COVID-19 in the jail is to use ultraviolet lights to literally cook the virus to death. With two lights, the jail puts them in empty cells and “bakes it” for about seven to eight minutes, Hensley said.
“We’re planning on putting it in the HVAC system, too, so we can kill it before it travels through the air vents,” he said.
Over in Carter County — which had a rocky start at the beginning of the pandemic when the state pulled a number of inmates due to COVID concerns — Jailer R.W. Boggs said things leveled out and “we’ve been really fortunate.”
“There’s other jails across the state that have been hit,” he said. “We’ve been lucky with it.”
Boggs said his jail follows the same procedures as anywhere else in the state. He said upping medical care from 12-hour shifts to 16-hour shifts, maintaining a good supply of PPE and quarantining pods whenever an outbreak does occur has kept the number low, despite the spike in Carter County over the last month or so.
“The county’s population had a spike, so with our numbers at the jail I’m happy with how we’ve performed,” he said. “I can’t wait for COVID-19 to go the way of the buffalo.”
Staffing has been its own challenge, however Boggs said that had less to do with COVID outbreaks and more to do with finding help amid generous unemployment benefits. Like Hensley, Boggs said COVID is just another part of corrections.
“The sad reality is this is something all jails have to do deal with today,” he said. “We have to staff our facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike other businesses, we can’t shut down.”
Greenup County Jailer Mike Worthington — whose jail had to temporarily be shuttered during the pandemic — could not be reached for comment.
As of Wednesday, the Ashland Federal Correctional Institution — which was slammed with hundreds of inmates contracting COVID at the tail end of 2020 — is only reporting eight inmates and 11 staff positive, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
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