COVINGTON, Ga. — Five detention officers have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Jan. 15, Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said, which is what likely sparked a recent outbreak of virus among more than 20 inmates.
Brown confirmed Friday, Jan. 8, that 22 inmates within the Newton County Jail had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, though all but one were demonstrating little to no symptoms.
After investigating and using contact tracing, Brown said there was reason to believe the inmates had contracted the virus from staff members.
“The time-lapse, beginning from when residents were incarcerated to the COVID-19 outbreak last week, helped us determine that the 21 inmates, who have tested positive for COVID-19 but show little to no symptoms, contracted the virus from staff,” Brown said in a statement to The Covington News. “As of January 15, there has been a total of five detention officers who have tested positive for COVID-19.”
The lone inmate who was showing significant symptoms was transported in to the Newton County Jail from another jail that had already witnessed an outbreak. He is currently being quarantined in a zero-pressured unit and “receiving special attention as a result of his symptoms,” Brown said.
Brown said the Newton County Sheriff’s Office had developed a testing procedure for staff to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the jail but did not elaborate on the procedure.
“We have strictly followed all CDC guidelines since the pandemic began last March, and again, we are blessed to have gone so long without a single positive case in the detention center up until last week,” he said. “We will continue doing everything we can to ensure the safety of all staff and residents.”
A spokesperson with the Newton County Sheriff's Office said the five detention officers who tested positive for COVID-19 has not caused the jail to become understaffed, as there are 63 total detention officers currently employed by the sheriff's office.
"We have cross-trained officers so that the Detention Center is fully staffed to the point where all duties are fulfilled," the spokesperson said.
In April 2020, the sheriff’s office and local judges worked to reduce the jail population by more than 100 inmates to help fight against the pandemic and avoid an outbreak within the facility. Local police departments also agreed to limit arrests.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is received.