King County jail reports 16 new cases of COVID-19

Outbreak at Seattle jail; individuals transferred to medical isolation at Kent facility

Sixteen new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the King County jail in Seattle and those individuals were transferred to medical isolation at the county jail in Kent.

The new outbreak came to light after an inmate at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle reported flu-like symptoms on Dec. 6, according to a Monday news release from the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. This person had been at the jail for more than a month and tested negative upon initial entry. As soon as this case was reported on Sunday, everybody housed within the same part of the jail was tested, despite being asymptomatic.

Of 69 people, 15 additional individuals tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

The positive individuals were transferred to medical isolation at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. The other 54 have been placed in quarantine housing at the Seattle facility.

This is the first time we have confirmed cases of COVID-19 from coronavirus exposures that occurred within our jails, according to the county news release. In earlier cases of inmates or staff testing positive, it is considered likely that infection occurred outside the jail facilities.

Public Health contact tracers are working to identify any inmates, staff or visitors who may have had close contact with the recently identified cases among our in-custody population. Before testing positive, this inmate had been in a wing that houses inmate-workers – those who help in jail operations.

Staff has decontaminated the wing of the jail where these individuals had been housed, as well as any hallways, elevators or transport vehicles they may have used.

Prior to the weekend outbreak, King County had confirmed 47 cases of COVID-19.

Going forward, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention and Jail Health Services are working in the following steps:

• Contact tracing and resources for staff.

• Reaching out to our partners in the legal community and law enforcement who may have had contact with any of the infected individuals in our custody.

• Ensuring that staffing and operations continue smoothly.

• Reviewing our protocols for improvements going forward.

Washington state and the nation have recently set new daily records for confirmed coronavirus cases. All major indicators for managing the infection rate are headed in the wrong direction.

Since the start of the pandemic, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, in partnership with Jail Health Services, a division of Public Health – Seattle & King County, has taken aggressive steps to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. These actions reflect the best available public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An outbreak detected at the King County Jail in Seattle is the latest manifestation of this trend. This has occurred despite the numerous aggressive steps that King County has taken to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the news release.

These measures include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Worked with our criminal justice partners to quickly and safely reduce the in-custody population at our jails through booking restrictions and other steps. This has lowered the average daily population from 1,900 at the start of 2020, to fewer than 1,400.

• Universal COVID-19 testing of everybody who is booked into our jails, starting in October. Anybody who declines to be tested is placed in quarantine housing within the jail.

• All employees and visitors must complete a symptoms check and temperature screening whenever entering our secure detention facilities.

• All inmates, staff and visitors are required to wear appropriate face masks at all times when inside the jails. The only exceptions are when someone is in a room by themself or actively eating or drinking.

• Strict social distancing measures for the in-custody population, including the elimination of single bunking and drastic reduction of the population in dormitory-style units.