Thirteen inmates of the Deschutes County jail and five staff members have now tested positive for COVID-19, prompting defense attorneys to seek postponed incarceration.
A spokesman for the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, confirmed the inmate total Tuesday. The figure is up from five inmates, announced last week.
“The inmates that have tested positive are being isolated within a housing unit,” wrote Sgt. Jayson Janes in an email. “The inmates are displaying minor symptoms, and are not requiring a higher level of care. They are being evaluated daily by jail medical RN’s with care, including vital signs, symptom assessments and over the counter medications.”
Inmates who have been in contact with the COVID-19-positive inmates are currently in quarantine, and being monitored and retested as recommended by the Deschutes County Public Health Department, Janes said.
Jail staffers who tested positive for COVID-19 have been told to follow quarantine guidelines, Janes said.
The jail situation is being felt in court, too. In hearings this week in Deschutes County Circuit Court, defense attorneys have sought to postpone jails terms for defendants for several months.
“I think we’re having a pretty serious outbreak of COVID in the jail,” said defense attorney Michael R. Hughes, who asked a judge to consider house arrest or schedule a client’s 20-day sentence in six months to a year. “It doesn’t make sense to have a guy go in for 20 days, catch COVID and get out and spread it to the rest of the world.”
Defense attorney Colton Theer made a similar request Tuesday.
“My client is very involved with elderly family members who could be at risk to catch COVID,” Theer said.
Judge Alison Emerson asked that Theer file motions seeking a delayed incarceration.
Since April, the jail has offered COVID-19 vaccine clinics to inmates in the facility through county health officials. First and second doses of the vaccine are offered every other week, and any inmate is able to request vaccination, Janes said.
An average of 10 inmates receive the vaccine biweekly.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office jail has been following all recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority, Centers for Disease Control, and Deschutes County Public Health,” said jail Medical Director Eden Aldrich. “As this more transmissible variant has made it into our facility, we continue with regular communication with the OHA, CDC, and Deschutes County Public Health and will make changes to infection control procedures as recommended by these experts.”
Though the local jail managed to stave off an outbreak for a year and a half, state and federal prisons in Oregon have struggled with rising infection rates and lawsuits alleging a failure to protect inmates from COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, 44 state prison inmates had died of COVID-19, and 3,738 inmates and 1,090 state prison staff members had tested positive since the pandemic began.
The Oregonian reported this month only about half of the 4,500 state corrections employees have received the vaccine.