By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
As of Monday morning, the Allegheny County Jail has 31 possible coronavirus cases–25 inmates and six employees are currently awaiting the results of tests.
The number of pending and new cases of the virus had been stable at the jail until June 29 when the ACJ listed on its website that two employees had tested positive for the virus. At that time, four more employees and 13 incarcerated individuals had tested positive. The ACJ updates it’s coronavirus stats daily. So far, 28 inmates out of 148 tested have been diagnosed with COVID-19; all have recovered.
Last week, several employees at the ACJ told the Current, they believe the cause of the spike is due to puzzling quarantine procedures and a drastic increase in new inmates.
Several employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say that an overcrowded intake wing and inconsistent quarantine procedures, along with other flawed processes, are the likely culprits for the increase.
By rule, all new inmates at the Allegheny County Jail are ordered to be held in quarantine for 14 days before being allowed in with the general population. But many incarcerated individuals aren’t getting a full two weeks of quarantine. Here’s what’s happening:
By ACJ rule, all new bookings must be held in a cell with another person as a suicide-prevention measure. As one inmate comes off quarantine and moved into the general population, another person is moved into the cell. But while the first inmate may be on day 10 or 12 of his quarantine, his new cellmate may only be on day 3. The first inmate’s quarantine has been disrupted by possible exposure, however, they are still moved out at the end of the quarantine if they are asymptomatic.
The increase of potential cases at the jail tracks with what has ben also happening at the county level. Today, the county announced 218 new cases of COVID-19, yet another new one-day record. Since Friday, there have been 672 new cases over the Fourth of July weekend, which saw it’s share of unmasked events, including a “boat parade” for President Trump. Many advocates and elected officials have been concerned about a major outbreak at the jail and have requested universal testing, like other jails and prisons across the country have done. Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner along with Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam sit on the jail board and attempted to have universal testing mandated on May 7. ACJ officials were against the testing and the board voted it down.