Two Garfield County jail inmates quarantined with potential COVID-19 symptoms

Garfield County Sheriff's Office and Garfield County Jail in Glenwood Springs.
Post Independent file photo

Two inmates at the Garfield County jail were recently in isolation with fevers, one of the symptoms of COVID-19, but tested negative for the flu, according to Sheriff Lou Vallario.

“Both tested negative for the flu, so they obviously had something else,” Vallario said. The pair has not been tested for COVID-19, due to the lack of available tests.

The inmates, both male, did not have fever symptoms Tuesday. One was released on bond Tuesday afternoon, and the other is no longer in isolation.

Vallario said the sheriff’s office had reason to believe one man wasn’t being truthful about his symptoms, and he was returned to his cell.

The Garfield County Public Health Department is only formally notified of positive COVID-19 cases, but are aware of the possible cases at the jail.

“The incident command staff at Public Health was alerted to the potential cases in the Garfield County jail and is in frequent contact with county law enforcement officials through the Incident Management Team,” county health spokesperson Carrie Godes said.

 Testing is still reserved only for critically ill patients. If an inmate requires medical care, he or she will be transported to the hospital, Godes said.

“The jail has been working with Public Health staff in anticipation of possible cases and is taking all required precautions such as staff and inmate social distancing measures and increased disinfecting protocols,” Godes said.

The jail is following recommendations of Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, which state that an individual should not leave isolation until the person has been fever-free for at least 72 hours, other symptoms have improved, and at least seven days have passed since symptoms appeared.

Vallario said that other inmates in the general population have had influenza and similar diseases recently.

To the extent it can, Garfield County Jail has already implemented guidelines for detention centers that Gov. Jared Polis issued Tuesday, Vallario said.

The guidelines include limiting gatherings of 10 or more people in a single room within the jail, keeping 6 feet of distance between people, and isolating sick inmates.

Vallario said his office does have a limited supply of adequate masks, but the staff is not using them all of the time.

The detention center is doing what it can, but legally cannot close entirely.

“We can’t completely close,” Vallario said.

“If you’re arrested for first-degree assault, or attempted homicide or something, obviously you have to go to jail. That’s state law, and obviously there are constitutional issues that go along with that which supersede any type of immediate crisis.”

One of those issues is allowing attorneys to visit clients in jail. The governor’s guidance advises using video conferencing where possible. Other visitation at the Garfield County jail has been suspended.

The jail is also limiting use of masks to retain supply. And the size of the facility makes it difficult to implement all of the social distancing recommendations.

“Unfortunately, we have limited (personal protective equipment) for our patrol and detention staff, and of course, each jail has unique size and physical plant issues to contend with,” Vallario said.

But on Tuesday morning, the jail had 76 inmates, “the lowest I’ve seen in years,” Vallario said.

“This is evidence that we are doing our part and very importantly, the other law enforcement agencies and courts are all working with us to achieve those goals,” Vallario said.

Law enforcement agencies have already reduced the number of people booked in the jail by only arresting people suspected charges with mandatory arrest, like violent crimes, domestic violence, failures to appear, and similar charges. Everyone else, like most misdemeanors, is getting a citation.

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