As coronavirus cases continue to rise throughout Arizona, Mohave County Jail officials remain tasked with protecting inmate populations. And even with diminished resources, the jail appears to be succeeding in its effort.
According to Mohave County Jail Capt. Don Bischoff, 1,033 inmates have been tested for the coronavirus this year, with 19 confirmed positive cases - a positivity rate of about 1.8%. According to data released Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services, about 12% of testing for unincarcerated county residents showed positive results. And according to county officials, more than 1,000 new cases throughout Mohave County have been reported in December alone.
Efforts to mitigate the virus at Mohave County Jail have relied on a controlled inmate population, and a practice of “quarantine on entry” that has become standard at correctional facilities throughout Arizona. It isn’t a perfect system, and two inmates this week have been housed separately from the rest of Mohave County Jail’s inmates in negative-pressure medical isolation cells. But according to Bischoff, limited space and staff can often prevent new inmates from remaining in quarantine for a full CDC-recommended 14 days.
“Our quarantine model has worked very well,” Bischoff said Thursday. “In ideal situations, each new inmate would be held for a full 14 days … We didn’t, and still do not have adequate housing and bed space to facilitate a full 14-day quarantine process for our male population.”
According to Bischoff, the jail uses two housing units to provide quarantine for inmates who may have tested positive - a total of 152 bunks at the facility.
The male housing unit was at about 60% capacity as of Thursday, Bischoff said, while the female housing unit remained below 50% capacity.
“We worked with health officials and created a regular intake quarantine that incorporates PCR testing to facilitate a shorter quarantine process,” Bischoff said. “We’ve been testing our male inmates between day 6 and 8 of their quarantine. Provided the inmate is not ill, has no coronavirus-like symptoms and they test negative, they can move out of quarantine early.”
Bischoff says there have been no inmate hospitalizations or deaths due to the coronavirus this year.
“The process in place has worked well and continues to work exactly as it was intended, and helps us keep our existing inmate population safe,” Bischoff said. “It has prevented any outbreak within the facility.”
According to Bischoff, however, the jail has seen a slight increase in inmates who have tested positive this month. All have been identified in the quarantine process, and separated from the rest of the inmate population.
The jail has also seen a notable increase in positive cases among its 150 staff members, Bischoff said, due to their own interactions with the outside community of Mohave County.
Other mitigation efforts at the jail have included rigorous cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces. All jail staff have been required to wear masks at the facility since April, and inmates were issued cloth face masks soon after, Bischoff said. Inmates are encouraged to wear those masks while out of their cells, but the wearing of such masks is mandatory any time inmates leave their respective housing units.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office has also requested that local law enforcement agencies, like the Lake Havasu City Police Department, transfer suspects involved in allegedly violent or serious offenses to Mohave County Jail’s custody in order to reduce the jail’s population and better manage quarantines as necessary.
According to Bischoff, the jail’s protocols and processes for receiving and protecting inmates are constantly evaluated and reevaluated to identify any need to modify them. “We are constantly adapting and improving,” Bischoff said.