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Six Durham County jail staff test positive for COVID-19

Six Durham County Sheriff’s Office employees assigned to the county jail have tested positive for COVID-19. 

No inmates have tested positive, according to a press release from Sheriff Clarence Birkhead. It’s not clear how many of the 262 inmates detained as of Wednesday have been tested for coronavirus.

Citing privacy concerns, the sheriff’s office did not identify where the six employees work at the Durham County Detention Center or the extent to which they interact with inmates or attorneys.

That didn’t sit well with Durham defense attorney Daniel Meier. Nor did the fact that the sheriff’s department did not notify local lawyers directly that some detention center staff have tested positive for coronavirus, he said.

That leaves lawyers with no idea whether they interacted with the six employees when checking in to speak with clients via video kiosks in the lobby of the detention facility, Meier said.

“Our frustration is they’re not even telling us what parts of the jail they worked in,” Meier said.

State officials report that 652 individuals have tested positive for coronavirus at state and federal prisons and in county jails in North Carolina. Among them, five have died.

The press release regarding the positive tests was released in conjunction with the Durham County Public Health Department, said David Bowser, the department’s communications and public relations manager. A state Department of Health and Human Services tally Wednesday says COVID-19 has been detected in correctional facilities in 12 counties, including Durham.

The sheriff’s department is working to prevent new inmates from bringing coronavirus to the detention center, Bowser said. When entering the facility, he said, new detainees are screened by a health provider. Those tested for coronavirus are held in one-person cells until test results are received.

The six employees who have tested positive are complying with coronavirus protocol, meaning they are under quarantine or being treated at a medical facility, Bowser said.

Only sheriff’s deputies assigned to the detention center work there now, Bowser said. All entering have their temperatures checked and must answer screening questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms.

Sheriff Birkhead’s office has been implementing additional procedures to protect inmates from coronavirus since mid-March.

“We really feel that we’re really adequately staffed over there to handle any situation,” Bowser said.

At top: The Durham County Detention Center is located downtown. Photo by Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia

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