COVINGTON, Ga. — Twenty-two inmates within the Newton County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown confirmed Friday, Jan. 8.
The positive cases marks the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020 that an outbreak has occurred among inmates within the jail, according to the sheriff. Brown said he believes most of the inmates potentially contracted the virus from staff members.
Brown said the outbreak was isolated to one section in the county’s detention center. All inmates but one are showing “little to no symptoms at all,” he said.
“Based on our contact tracing and investigation, we have reason to believe those 21 residents contracted the virus from staff,” Brown said.
“We have one resident that was housed at another facility where an outbreak occurred prior to arriving at our detention center. As always, we test all incoming residents for COVID-19, and they are placed in quarantine for 14 days then are retested before being placed in any other form of population. Unfortunately, the results came back positive for the resident who arrived from the facility where an outbreak occurred. The resident showed more symptoms than the other 21 residents who tested positive ... The resident, who was transported to us from another facility, is currently quarantined in a zero-pressured unit and receiving special attention as a result of his symptoms.”
Due to the outbreak, Brown said he ordered movement be restricted within affected areas and increased the medical staff to provide “round-the-clock attention” to the COVID-19-positive inmates.
“We regret that this situation occurred, but we are no different from the normal population within the county who tested positive for COVID-19,” Brown said. “From last March up until [Thursday, Jan. 7], we have not experienced a single COVID-19 case in our detention center, and for that we are blessed.”
The mother of an inmate reached out to The Covington News on Friday morning claiming her son and others were not being treated properly. Brown said this claim was not true. Protocols in place that took away phone privileges were to protect other inmates and stopping the spread of the virus, he said.
“I send my regards to the mother who called with concerns about her loved one and not being able to bring him chicken noodle soup, as requested, and to visit for a physical hug,” Brown said. “Her loved one, who is the resident housed in the zero-pressured area, has access to all needs, with the exception to phone services. Keep in mind that the resident cannot leave the zero-pressured area due to the fact he could infect other residents and staff.”
Brown also dispelled any rumors of wrongdoing or the withholding of information and assured full transparency.
“We are, in no way, hiding information from the public regarding the COVID-19 outbreak in our detention center,” he said. “We have never once attempted to hide information, and we are not going to start today. We believe in the highest level of transparency. And these are the facts, regardless of whatever information is being circulated online about this outbreak.”
Following Brown’s statement, the daughter of a second inmate said Monday, Jan. 11, the sheriff wasn’t keeping his word about being transparent.
After speaking with her father, Casey Bennett told The Covington News her father claims inmates are not getting properly tested. Rather than each person being tested before entering the facility, inmates’ temperatures are checked but they are not tested if considered normal, she said.
She also feared for her father’s health, noting the 46-year-old inmate had suffered two heart attacks. All Bennett wants for her father and other inmates is to be well taken care of, she said.
Bennett echoed the concerned mother of an inmate, claiming Brown was trying to keep the outbreak quiet and “make the situation look better than it is.”
“I realize my dad’s in jail and the people in there have done some bad things, but they’re humans and COVID is not something to mess around with,” she told The Covington News in an exclusive phone interview. “Jail is the worst place someone could get COVID.”
When The Covington News reached out Monday evening for a response to Bennett’s claims, Newton County Sheriff’s Office Communications Officer Caitlin Jett said the sheriff stood by his intial statement.
“The safety and health of all residents and staff are always our top priority,” she said. “Again, we regret this happened, but we are no different from the normal population within the county who tested positive for COVID-19. We strongly believe that the residents are receiving better care at the Newton County Detention Center than they would anywhere else.”