Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen told The Herald Journal on Wednesday that inmates participating in the work release program were granted a furlough after cases of COVID-19 were detected in the Cache County Jail.
According to Jensen, 35 individuals at the jail recently tested positive for COVID-19. Jail Commander Roy Hall said the new cases consisted of 32 inmates and three jail staffers. Jensen said the inmates who tested positive were generally asymptomatic, though Hall said there may have been some mild cold-like symptoms.
Jensen said the work release inmates were granted a furlough to avoid bringing additional cases of COVID-19 into the jail, while also mitigating risk of spread to the community. The furlough also allows for the COVID-negative work release inmates to keep their jobs.
Hall said the work release program was estimated to return to functioning normally in two or three weeks.
The average stay in the jail, according to Jensen, is around five days, and inmates are not required to disclose if they’ve been vaccinated. With unknown vaccination statuses and a fluctuating jail population, Jensen said pinning down specific numbers on fully vaccinated inmates was hard to come by.
“We offer (vaccines) to them all the time,” Jensen said. “We don’t force it.”
Angie White, an epidemiologist with the Bear River Health Department, agreed it was “super, super tough” to provide concrete numbers of vaccinated inmates at the jail and the ever-changing jail population also affects the administration of vaccine.
White said during one of her initial visits she administered around 40 doses of vaccine; when she returned around three weeks later for a second round of shots, nearly half of the inmates were unavailable as a result of the fluctuating population.
According to White, vaccines have been available to the inmates since March. She estimated at least five or six vaccine clinics had taken place at the jail since then.
But another challenge, which White was hopeful would be resolved as soon as next week, is that the jail does not have vaccines stored onsite and as a result can’t distribute them on their own. White said the jail lacks the refrigeration equipment to properly store mRNA vaccines at necessary temperatures.
But, now that vaccines are widely available in a variety of places, White said she was hopeful to store doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the jail, allowing their medical staff to administer doses as-needed. White said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, using viral vector technology instead of mRNA, requires less extreme refrigeration, which the jail can accommodate. What’s more, the Johnson & Johnson only requires one shot which might be more appealing for inmates who aren’t serving significant lengths of jail time.