Protocols questioned as coronavirus outbreak at Garfield County Community Corrections center in Rifle grows to nine cases
A Garfield County Community Corrections client on Thursday criticized the facility’s handling of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases over the past week, as state health officials were on hand to further assess the situation.
The number of confirmed cases also increased to nine late Wednesday when another staff member tested positive. No new cases were reported Thursday, Garfield County Public Information Officer Renelle Lott said.
To date, the confirmed cases involve six clients and three staff members, she said.
“All three staff have been released to quarantine away from the facility, and all six clients have been either furloughed or transferred to parole for quarantine,” Lott said.
A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rapid response team was on-site Thursday and completed testing on all remaining staff and current clients. The collected samples will be tested at the state lab, Lott said.
Meanwhile, Aaron Braatz, a client in the Rifle-based criminal justice facility, said the outbreak is not surprising given what he claimed have been weak safety protocols within the residential work-release program.
Last Saturday, Braatz said he was among 10 people on the facility’s transport van in the south Rifle area when he learned that one of the passengers was symptomatic and was being taken to Grand River Health to be tested.
He said he began questioning staff when he returned to the facility why other passengers would be allowed on the van if they knew someone was symptomatic and en route to be tested.
“No one even bothered to make me aware, or give me a choice to take the van, or not,” Braatz said. “I would have walked back to the facility if I’d known.”
Even within the facility on Sunday and Monday, after he said it was known that there was at least one confirmed case, it was business as usual during a community dinner.
Braatz said there was little attempt to prevent people from touching the same food items and utensils in the grab-and-go style community meal. Throughout the facility, he said there was little effort to keep people separated, and that the clients were still responsible for cleaning common areas, rather than a professional cleaning crew being brought in.
Braatz’s first COVID test taken earlier this week came back negative, and that he was tested again when the rapid response team came in Thursday. He said several residents have been sent home to quarantine, or to isolate if they tested positive, but that about a dozen male and female clients remain in the facility.
Garfield County Criminal Justice Services Administrator Rodney Hollandsworth said via an email response from Lott that ample safety precautions were and are being practiced.
“The facility had an established cleaning structure in place before COVID-19 occurred and strengthened it with the risk of COVID-19,” Lott said in the statement to the Post Independent. “Surfaces were and are cleaned and sanitized daily, including with supervision and oversight of these operations.”
Lott noted in an email to the Post Independent that clients of the Garfield County Criminal Justice facility are in the oversight of the courts.
“Upon entry to the community corrections facility they are notified that at any time they may initiate a complaint through the grievance process provided,” she said in response to Braatz’s claims.
The internal grievance process involves at least two levels of review, in which clients are requested to make a complaint verbally to a staff person first.
“If they feel the outcome does not meet their concern, they may initiate a formal written grievance that will be reviewed at the director level. This allows review by more than one staff member,” she said.
Hollandsworth said Thursday that no such grievance has been filed.
Back in March of this year, when the COVID outbreak first showed up in Colorado, sanitizing at the facility was increased to include making sanitizing wipes available for commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, in restrooms and in common areas.
“As a result of the first positive test over the weekend, all cleaning supplies were provided in the common areas for both the male and female areas inside the living facility,” she said. “Clients had access to supplies 24 hours a day over the weekend and are continuing to have this.”
As for the transport vehicles, “sanitizing is done for both of the vehicles and surfaces in which people have routine contact.”
County corrections officials were notified Tuesday of four positive COVID cases at the facility. Notifications of positive test results for three additional cases were received later Tuesday and another on Wednesday, according to a Wednesday news release.
A quarantine remains in place for all individuals who were in the facility and may have been exposed.
The community corrections program is designed as a transitional program to prepare clients convicted of crimes to live independently after incarceration. Many of the clients work outside of the facility and are closely supervised when they return.
Personal responsibility is a big part of that arrangement, the county’s news release went on to state.
“Frequent and routine cleaning is a part of the requirements of clients to meet the standards of preparing to live on their own after their release,” the release stated.
Facility staff has also increased cleaning protocols to include cleaning after every single use of the restrooms, and after any use of the common areas, according to the release.
Staff also regularly wear protective masks, and clients are “encouraged” to do so, the release states.
Lott said Garfield County Public Health staff began working on contact investigations in the correctional facility over the weekend. However, the matter did not come up during the weekly Public Health update to county commissioners on Monday.
“The department was awaiting test results early this week to identify and determine whether or not there was a COVID outbreak in the facility,” Lott said.
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Free COVID-19 testing will be available in Carbondale starting Tuesday, Dec. 1.