Decatur County Jail provides vaccines to inmates, works to decrease spread of COVID-19 virus

Published 9:10 am Monday, August 30, 2021

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With the COVID-19 Delta variant ramping up in both local hospitals and schools, many residents are now concerned how the Decatur County Jail is being impacted.

Decatur County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Wendell Cofer said, as with everywhere else, the jail has seen an increase in COVID-19 numbers and recently had 10 plus inmates test positive. However, Cofer said Captain Donna Thompson and her staff are doing everything in their power to take precautions for the inmates and the department.

Cofer said when an inmate arrives for booking, the jail completes a rapid test on them.

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If the inmate tests negative, they are kept isolated in a holding cell alone for three days to make sure no symptoms appear.

Once the three days has passed, if the inmate cannot make bond, they are then transferred to cell block 9, where they are then watched for 10 more days to be assured no symptoms are present.

If the inmate is still showing no signs of the virus after the 13-day period, they are put in the permanent block, which is similar to an open pod system, Cofer explained.

“We run a very robust program,” he said. “Sometimes they will get it once they are transferred into the permanent block.”

In order to cut down on the transmission, the jail has begun offering the COVID-19 vaccine to the inmates. It is not mandatory, and completely voluntary. However, inmates who are vaccinated are given privileges.

The Department of Public Health provided the first two rounds of vaccines, where a total of 53 inmates took advantage of the opportunity. The jail held a third drive Wednesday afternoon, where 43 inmates were vaccinated with a new company that the State of Georgia has contracted out for all jails.

Cofer said for inmates who are in the jail for an extended period of time, it is likely they will receive both vaccines. Providers have tried to emphasize to those in for a short period of time that once out, it is up to the individual to follow up and get the second dose.

“We have had a really good participation rate so far,” Cofer said.

For those who have come down with COVID-19, Cofer said the nurse is checking their pulse oxygen twice a day and anyone feeling ill has access to the on call doctor twice a week.

All inmates have been give both an N95 masks and a cloth mask Cofer said. They have also been provided with powder Gatorade to help provide electrolytes to inmates. In addition, Cofer said they have doubled the hand soap budget and spent $13,000 on an air purifying system, along with air foggers.

The foggers can spray whole cell blocks, which Cofer said they do twice a week.

Many have questioned why the inmates are only receiving soap instead of hand sanitizer, but Cofer pointed out that with sanitizer being comprised of 75% isopropyl alcohol, it can be used as a weapon.

Cofer said although they cannot give out bottles to the inmates, it is still being used in the medical sense and when inmates visit the nurse or doctor, they always sanitize their hands.

Due to the increase in COVID-19, the jail has had to put a halt to all inmate visitation.

Cofer and Thompson have it set up where inmates can now do video calls and video visitations, though.

“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “Inmates are now doing that more than any other activity. We are also allowing them to securely email their families.”

With these new protocols in place and all jail staff and deputies being vaccinated, Cofer said not one positive inmate has had to visit the hospital, nor has any inmate passed from the virus.

Cofer attributes the successful mitigation of the virus to Thompson.

“Captain Donna Thompson and her staff have done a phenomenal job handling this,” he said. “They deserve a tremendous amount of credit.”

Cofer understands that even with these protocols and vaccinations being given, individuals may still have questions and he encourages them to contact him at 229-400-8002 for more information.