Broome County Jail Limits Movement Amid New COVID-19 Cases

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Two people incarcerated at the Broome County jail tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week. That’s in addition to a few cases among correctional officers.

Broome County Sheriff David Harder said most of the dormitories, known as pods, are locked down and that there is no movement in the facility except for people who have to go to court or see a doctor.

Broome County Sheriff David Harder speaks alongside sheriffs from seven counties in the Southern Tier on July 15, 2020. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG Public Media)

Harder said there is no indication yet of where the spread of the virus began.

“Could come from a new inmate coming in; we try to segregate them. Could have come from a correctional officer who got it from somebody else,” Harder said. “By the time the symptoms show up they’ve already been in contact with somebody.”

Two to three correctional officers tested positive for the virus in the last week, according to Harder. People in the jail who tested positive are now isolating in a medical unit.

“Most of the inmates are isolated from each other,” he added. “They’re not allowed out of their cells. They’re basically quarantined to keep the spread down.”

Harder said only one pod was affected by the positive cases. He said every remaining person in that pod was tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday, and all results came back negative.

No additional testing among residents of the other pods has occurred. Harder said the decision to administer more tests is up to the jail’s medical staff, and won’t occur unless there is a problem reported by people incarcerated there or identified through the facility’s daily temperature checks.

Harder said medical staff checks the temperatures of each person incarcerated twice a day, and correctional officers coming in and out of the jail receive temperature checks when they enter the building and before they leave, too.

The sheriff said there have been no COVID-19-related hospitalizations nor deaths at the facility. Visitation there has been suspended since the start of the pandemic.

During his weekly COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said the new handful of cases connected to the jail is not surprising.

“Congregate care settings, whether it’s nursing homes or jails or anything like that, these are the places where we’re going to see more of a propensity for COVID spread,” Garnar said.

According to Garnar, the new cases are the first at the jail since July. Earlier this spring, he called the jail a COVID-19 “hot spot” after two dozen correctional officers and incarcerated residents tested positive. Representatives from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision visited the jail last week and reported they were satisfied with its infection control measures, the county executive added.

Comparing the five to six cases diagnosed as of Wednesday to the spread of the virus between several hundred residents at the Elmira Correctional Facility in October, Garnar said he wouldn’t necessarily define the spread in the jail as an outbreak this early on. At Elmira, 590 of the prison’s 1,518 residents tested positive for COVID-19 in the span of a few weeks.

“That’s something that I would call an outbreak. when you have hundreds of inmates [infected] there, not a handful,” Garnar said.

According to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there were 376 people incarcerated at the Broome County jail as of October. Garnar said Wednesday that the number may be closer to 450 people there now.

But some advocates worry that without proactive measures to prevent further spread of the virus, the number of cases can escalate to Elmira’s levels.

Mary Clark, of Citizen Action, said that without more cautionary testing of asymptomatic residents and contact tracing, it will be hard to track the spread.

“We want to do our due diligence to protect us from getting like Elmira,” Clark said. “That’s the job of our county executive and our sheriff — to protect the health and safety of its residents. Even its incarcerated residents.”

Activists in Binghamton have previously called for transparency about the number of COVID-19 cases at the jail, as well as testing, quarantines and hospitalizations.

Broome County surpassed 5,000 COVID-19 cases over the weekend. There are currently 568 active cases and 23 hospitalizations.