By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper announced this afternoon that 24 more employees and an additional two incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, another 40 employees and 200 inmates are in quarantine.
Yesterday, the Current reported that 25 residents of the jail and just five employees were positive. On Nov. 20, the Current reported that 25 employees of the jail were at home on quarantine after attending a party and a wedding with other jail employees.
“As of today, there are 29 employees and 27 inmates of the Allegheny County Jail that are COVID-19 positive. The employees have all been quarantined, with the most recent quarantine occurring on December 4. None of the employees are at work. Due to these positive cases, another approximately 40 employees are currently in quarantine at their homes,” Harper wrote in the statement. “Additionally, the inmates at the jail who have tested positive were already quarantined and have since been placed in isolation. These individuals, with the exception of one person, are all isolated on the same housing unit. They are not showing symptoms but are being monitored regularly by medical personnel at the facility. Additionally, approximately 200 inmates are being quarantined on four housing units.”
According to the press release, “748 inmates have been tested for COVID since mid-March with 66 positive tests and 27 individuals with positive cases currently in the facility. The other individuals that had tested positive have either been released or have recovered.” Some members of the Jail Oversight Board and other public officials have called for universal testing but that request has been roundly rejected.
“We have been saying this since the beginning: The reason the official case number in the Allegheny County Jail is so low is that they haven’t been testing people. No testing means no positive cases,” Allegheny County Councilor and Oversight Board Member Bethany Hallam said. “We need to work to drastically reduce the population, especially considering many court proceedings have been postponed due to the recent emergency order issued by President Judge Clark.”
With 69 employees now infected or on quarantine, there’s no telling what staffing issues will arise, although Harper claims staffing will be covered.
“We continue to work with employees to ensure the proper staffing for the continued safety and security of everyone at the Allegheny County Jail. And, as we have done throughout this pandemic, we are following the advice of the facility’s medical provider as it relates to precautions for inmates,” Harper said. “We also keep the lines of communication open to ensure that the measures being taken are in line with the guidance provided by the CDC, PA Department of Health, PA Department of Corrections, and the Allegheny County Health Department.
“People are wearing masks, washing their hands and remaining physically distanced. We’re testing when appropriate. Positive cases are isolated. We perform contact tracing and quarantine those individuals. We have consistent cleaning of the environment. Ongoing screenings include temperature checks and queries about symptoms of all employees and contractors are consistent. Visitation restrictions, while difficult for everyone, are limiting the number of people who interact with the inmates and reducing the chance of spread. We will continue to enforce and reinforce all recommendations. These measures have been upheld by our hardworking, essential employees and dedicated staff. They work continuously to ensure the safe management of this facility and all those who are in it and we are confident that they will continue to do so.”
This is an evolving story that will be updated as information becomes available.