Jul. 22—At least 28 inmates at the jail in Marion County, Tennessee, have been confirmed to have coronavirus infections after an inmate transferred to state custody last week tested positive and officials discovered an outbreak had started.
"We had the health department in Monday — we had three or four test positive last week — and so far we've got 28 cases," Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said Wednesday.
Results started coming in Tuesday after at least 80 inmates were tested, he said.
It was a surprising blow.
"We went 15 months and didn't have an inmate case," Burnett said.
Infected inmates have shown some symptoms — fever, chills and general discomfort — but Burnett said none have required hospitalization.
Activities such as jail religious services and litter pickup have been suspended as the facility weathers the outbreak.
"We have a nurse there seven days a week and a doctor is on call, so we'll take whatever measures we have to to make sure everybody gets proper medical treatment," he said.
Inmates with serious health conditions were moved to the front of the jail in an effort to keep them as far away from infected inmates as possible, Burnett said.
The sheriff's office has been working with state health officials who Burnett said will return to offer vaccinations to eligible inmates in the coming days.
"We can't give the vaccinations as long as they're positive, and it's my understanding they have to wait," the sheriff said.
Uninfected inmates who haven't been vaccinated and those who had the virus and have stopped showing symptoms long enough to be deemed recovered can get a vaccination, he said.
The sheriff didn't know how many inmates were previously vaccinated — "probably not that many," he said — but inmates who are eligible are being urged to get it.
Burnett contacted other sheriffs in the region for ideas, including Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller, who is fighting his own coronavirus outbreak with 20 inmate cases confirmed as of Monday.
"They said all you can do is set up a couple of pods and make them quarantine pods and put them in for 10 days and see what happens," Burnett said.
That plan doesn't work well for Marion as a result of overcrowding, Burnett said.
For now, "we've done all we can do, I think. We're going to have to wait and see. I thought we were over the worst part," he said. "I think everybody got caught by surprise."
Court proceedings haven't been affected so far, according to officials.
Burnett said he believes virtual hearings will probably increase until the outbreak subsides.
He wanted inmate families to know "we'll take whatever measures we have to to see inmates get proper medical treatment," he said.
Meanwhile, the situation at the jail in neighboring Franklin County has only worsened since Monday.
The case count at the jail in Winchester is up to 38, Fuller said Wednesday. That's nearly double Monday's tally.
In Marion County, no cases have appeared so far among the department's deputies, office staff and jailers, Burnett said Wednesday. He said he was unsure how many of his staff members had been vaccinated since the county attorney told him he couldn't require them to get vaccinated.
Burnett, however, got his as early as possible.
"I was the first person in Marion County to get it," he said, noting he hoped others follow suit.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.