KINGMAN —Mohave County Jail officials have announced an outbreak of new coronavirus cases in a single housing unit within the facility.
The outbreak was discovered Monday, when five inmates began to report symptoms including body aches, headaches and losing their sense of taste and smell. Inmates who reported such symptoms were immediately tested using rapid test kits, according to county representatives, and all were shown to be positive for the coronavirus.
It was only the beginning, according to jail officials. Although no other inmates reported coronavirus symptoms, the remainder of inmates from the same housing unit were tested on Tuesday. Medical staff identified an additional 13 positives, according to Mohave County Jail Capt. Don Bischoff.
“I met with the impacted inmates, fielded questions and openly discussed the positive test results, as well as the steps jail staff have immediately implemented and the steps being taken now,” Bischoff said this week. “We will keep them informed as we continue to handle the outbreak.”
As of this week, 40 inmates have now tested positive for the coronavirus at the jail, out of more than 1,100 inmates tested since the start of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I jokingly told my inmates, ‘It didn’t just grow in the corner where you didn’t clean’,” Bischoff said. “Obviously someone brought it into the facility.”
Bischoff could not say whether the coronavirus entered the facility via contracted staff members, or through any of the facility’s inmates. The housing unit in which the outbreak occurred is occupied only by county-sentenced inmates, Bischoff said, who are more often in contact with staff members than any other group of inmates. But Bischoff also said the jail’s quarantine process for new inmates may not have been foolproof, either.
“The science says that the majority of symptoms can be caught within the first two weeks, but some take longer,” Bischoff said. “Not everything is 100%.”
According to Bischoff, the origins of this week’s outbreak remain under investigation, but more important for jail staff will be determining how officials will proceed.
“With 18 new inmates testing positive, it’s a game changer,” Bischoff said. “My medical wing doesn’t have that much room. It’s going to be more important to figure out what we’re going to do now, moving forward. We’ll see if something was missed in our protocols, or if something needs to be changed.”
Since last year, Mohave County Jail officials have quarantined all new inmates for the virus upon entry into the facility. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office has also worked with local law enforcement agencies to limit the number of inmates transferred to Mohave County Jail, and officers including those of the Lake Havasu City Police Department have favored citations rather than arrests for nonviolent, minor offenses.
Citing commentary on social media, Bischoff said Tuesday that the jail has not released, and will not release any inmate from custody who has tested positive for the coronavirus, barring the completion of an inmate’s sentence.
Staff at the jail have been required to wear masks at the facility since April, and such masks were issued to inmates last summer.
Prior to this week’s outbreak, the jail has experienced 22 positive inmate cases and 11 cases among jail staff since May.