With the inevitable arrival of the first cases of COVID-19 to its facilities, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department has engaged in a rigorous containment and spread-prevention strategy aimed at limiting the effect of the global pandemic within its facilities.
Presently, as of April 17, there have been six positive tests for COVID-19 among those in Department care and custody – all within the detainee population at the Suffolk County Jail – and eight staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 (seven officers and one medical contractor). One detainee testing positive was hospitalized at Boston Medical Center overnight, and discharged back to Department facilities the following day. All six detainees have been transferred to a special quarantine unit at the House of Correction and positive staff members went into mandated quarantine. An additional two residents of the Jail are currently being housed separately at the House of Correction while awaiting test results.
In the instance of a positive test for officers, the Department conducts a review of on-duty contacts (staff/detainee/inmate) that an officer may have had. Typically, an officer does not fall within the CDC guidance of “close contact” with inmates, unless they have had physical contact through a “use of force” action or an assignment that put him or her in an enclosed area for a prolonged period of time. The Department also reviews staff contacts and assignments. Certain staff contacts have led to mandated quarantine, others, self-quarantine, and still others no quarantine, depending on the review and level of contact.
Consistent with the Department’s enhanced sanitization and decontamination protocols, the Jail units in which the individuals who tested positive lived pre-test, underwent deep cleaning and decontamination. Sanitization efforts continue in those units on an accelerated pace, in addition to the cleaning and sanitizing protocols enforced multiple times throughout the day throughout both facilities.
The use of masks for all personnel has been mandated, and anyone entering Department facilities is screened for symptoms and administered a temperature test. Custody and medical staff have been assigned personal protective equipment (PPE), and all staff, detainees and inmates have been given masks, which are replaced as needed.
“The arrival of COVID-19 in our facilities is something that we have been preparing for since the outset of the pandemic,” said Sheriff Tompkins, stressing the Department’s readiness. “As many of the health organizations and infectious disease experts have stated, the introduction of the COVID-19 virus in prison settings is inevitable, and we are all a microcosm of what is happening on our streets and in our communities.”
“The key for us is in the implementation of our plans and the consistency in their operation,” Sheriff Tompkins continued. “As I said, we are prepared for this unfortunate but inevitable situation, and we will do everything in our power to limit the incidence of the virus in our facilities and mitigate its effects by quarantining people who test positive, those who may have been in close contact with them, continuing our rigorous sanitizing and decontamination procedures, and following and updating the protocols that we’ve already implemented, as needed.”
The Department has also enlisted the expertise of Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Alysse Wurcel of Tufts Medical Center to bolster the practical and strategic planning of its COVID-19 response.
In addition to the protection and mitigation protocols, the Department has also been working with the courts to reduce the population within its facilities in compliance with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Order 12926. To date, 31 detainees, meeting specific criteria identified by the SJC, have been released from Department custody.