By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
UPDATE: United States District Judge Cathy Bissoon approved the modification of the consent order 3/24/21
Although it has fought the implementation of universal COVID testing for the past year, Allegheny County Jail administrators have agreed to provide tests to all individuals newly booked into the facility.
The new agreement modifies a settlement reached in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of incarcerated people at the jail who claimed “conditions at the jail increase the likelihood that they will contract COVID-19.” The consent order effectively settled the case. But attorneys filed a motion to amend the order last week to provide for testing of new jail residents.
“We are pleased that the jail will soon begin testing all people for COVID-19 at admission,” said Jaclyn Kurin, staff attorney at Abolitionist Law Center. “ACJ’s new intake testing policy is an essential step in preventing newly admitted individuals who are asymptomatic from introducing the coronavirus to the jail’s general population.”
When a person enters the jail, they go through the intake department and are housed in a unit there until they are assigned another pod within the facility. Previously, the county refused to give a COVID-19 test to any incarcerated person unless they showed symptoms. Now, however, a person will not be admitted into the general population until they receive two negative tests, the second coming about ten days after their arrival.
The new program begins on April 12. Initially, a rapid-test for COVID will be administered and then the following steps will be taken:
- If a person is symptomatic but their Binax Now Test or equivalent result is negative, then a PCR test will be administered.
- If a person is asymptomatic but their Binax Now Test or equivalent result is positive, then a PCR test will be administered.
In addition to the intake testing, attorneys for the incarcerated plaintiffs also asked that non-vaccinated staff members be transferred to duties that do not bring them in direct contact with incarcerated people. As part of the settlement, that request was withdrawn.
The Allegheny County Jail has come under fire in the past year because of the way it has handled the COVID-19 outbreak. In recent months, the number of infected incarcerated people skyrocketed including a period in late-February when the jail had more than 80 new positive cases of COVID-19 in just a 10-day period.