Berkshire House of Corrections Recovering From COVID-19 Outbreak
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire County House of Corrections had a number of inmates and staff test positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of the month but have been able to contain the outbreak and says those infected are "doing well."
Fifteen inmates and six staff members had tested positive for the virus in early September.
"We were very lucky for a year and a half to be able to keep the virus out of the inmate population," Assistant Deputy Superintendent Thomas Grady said. "Unfortunately, a few weeks ago we ended up with a few cases inside."
Grady told the Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee on Wednesday that they are reaching the end of the 14-day quarantine period and are confident that the inmates and staff will make a full recovery after testing positive.
"We have not had anybody that has been very sick at all," he added. "We had a few that were symptomatic, most were asymptomatic, we had several staff members as well that tested positive but they're all doing well."
Grady said jail officials were shocked when they saw the positive cases because of the strict protocols and procedures they have in place. Nonetheless, the Sheriff's Office feels it has controlled the situation.
"Again it goes back to that whole process of planning, of what we put into place with our public health partners and Berkshire Medical Center and testing criteria the protocols that we had in limiting visitation in the jail and moving to video visits and using technology," he said.
"We were surprised when we started to see cases arrive, we thought that we had this, you know, a really good process, and I still think that we do. I think we just, it was our turn. But I feel like we got a really good handle on it now, I know [Sheriff Thomas Bowler] does, and we'll get everybody healthy and back."
Symptomatic inmates were immediately tested and those who tested positive were isolated in housing units right away. In isolation, they received more medical care and increased fluids.
Four days after being exposed to the positive person, everyone in the jail was tested. A week later, they were retested again.
"It's hard because in the outset of it we tried to have everybody isolate to the room and just come out a couple of hours a day and kind of exercise and it's difficult," Grady added.
"It's difficult to do time as it is and to add the pandemic stuff in."
He said there was an outpouring of cooperation from inmates when it came down to addressing the outbreak. They stepped to the plate to help with cleaning, he said, and followed increased mitigation guidelines.
"I have to tell you that we have a solid staff and we have a great inmate population. Really we have people that had jumped right on board to help us clean the place, keep everything clean, do the increased protocols that we put in place," he reported.
"I would say that it's been a collaborative effort between the population and the staff to be able to manage what we have to this day."
Contrary to the common belief that the inmate population is unvaccinated, Grady said roughly 60 percent of them have gotten the vaccine.
"A lot of people have said to me 'well you have a whole population of people that are unvaccinated,' that's completely untrue," he said.
"Our medical department is able to distribute the vaccine, we have a process with [the Department of Public Health] to be able to do that in house, so everybody that comes in, staff inmates, are all offered the opportunity for the vaccine and we have probably better than 60 percent of the inmate population has taken the vaccination."
Chairman Robert Czerwinski speculated that with people living in close quarters, there's always a higher chance of spreading illness. He commended the jail for how it handled the situation.
"When you've got a close-knit population, which lately, it's just as similar as a nursing home where one case rapidly spreads like up in North Adams or tuberculosis cases and things like that," he said.
"You guys had all the plans in place and did everything right so congratulations to you."
Tags: COVID-19, emergency committee,
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