File Photo (Lake County Jail) | Photo: Google Street View.

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Lake County jail in Waukegan, bringing the outbreak to 40 inmates who have tested positive, including one who is hospitalized.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said the outbreak took place in housing pod 5-North.

“As far as Pod 5N goes, in addition to all of the established mitigation, we are ensuring those infected and exposed are safely isolating and quarantining in 5N, and not intermingling,” Lake County Sheriff Spokesman Sgt. Christopher Covelli said.

“Infected inmates are isolated in individual cells to greatly reduce the risk of exposing others. The quarantining inmates (those exposed) are let out first and the isolating groups do not start their break times until all of the quarantining groups have gone. The entire shared area is sanitized between groups,” Covelli added.

The Lake County Health Department has assisted in conducting regular coronavirus testing on inmates, correctional employees and correctional contractors at the jail.

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The outbreak — which is the jail’s first major outbreak since the pandemic began — started when four inmates in pod 5-North tested positive on December 14.

“Upon learning of the positive tests, extended proactive mitigation protocols were ordered by Sheriff Idleburg which included the quarantine of pod 5-North,” Covelli said.

“This mitigation includes no internal or external movements of inmates assigned to pod 5-North. Only specific jail employees are allowed to enter pod 5-North all of which are wearing medical-grade PPE,” he added.

All of the 53 inmates in the 5-North pod were tested for the virus and 31 additional inmates were COVID-19 positive, the sheriff’s office said on December 20.

Since then, five others who initially tested negative have tested positive, bringing the case count to 40. Of those who tested positive, one of them was hospitalized and is expected to be discharged in a few days.

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Covelli said the jail has worked with the Lake County Facilities Department to ensure the air handling units are pulling fresh air into pod 5-North and to the five floors of the jail.

“This fresh air goes into each individual cell and into the day rooms. The air is then discharged outside, it is not shared with other floors in the jail. The entire jail is provided constant air changes per ASHRAE and Building Code Specification to ensure the best quality air is provided for the Jail since the inmates/guards must remain inside,” he said.

The jail has since started rapid testing newly remanded inmates.

Since February, over a dozen protocols and enhanced mitigation procedures have been implemented at the jail in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus.

Those include the following:

  • Enhanced medical screening for inmates and employees entering the jail
  • Increased cleanings of jail pods
  • Minimization of inmates moving from pod to pod
  • Establishing a medical segregation area for inmates with mild illness symptoms
  • Any inmate experiencing illness wears a mask while quarantined
  • Worked with Courts & criminal justice partners to establish electronic bond hearings, versus in-person hearings
  • Inmates who receive a recognizance bond at their initial hearing never enter the jail’s general population area
  • Utilizing PPEs for all jail staff
  • All inmates wear facemasks when outside of their cell for any reason
  • Utilized vacant housing pods to spread the distance between inmates
  • All newly remanded inmates are housed out of general population for 14 days for medical evaluation before being moved to general population
  • Inmates are required to eat in their cell, rather than in a group setting
  • Inmates are allowed to have their cell doors open during socialization times, but congregated together in common areas are not allowed
  • Regular COVID-19 testing of jail inmates and jail employees
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