Lewis & Clark County Detention Center officer and inmate test positive for COVID-19

Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 21:17:15-04

HELENA — Lewis and Clark County authorities have confirmed the first COVID-19 case identified inside the county detention center.

Sheriff Leo Dutton announced Thursday that one detention officer and one inmate had tested positive for COVID-19.

Dutton said, from the start of the pandemic, their goal has been to keep cases out of the detention center. Now, they have to shift to managing a case inside.

“We have had this stay out of our facility for quite a while, but we’ll work to contain it,” Dutton said.

Dutton said the detention officer tested positive Tuesday, after reporting symptoms. Since then, all detention center staff and a majority of inmates have been tested.

“We felt that they all needed to be tested, because the detention officer that is working has the potential to be in all areas,” said Dutton.

On Wednesday, results showed one inmate had tested positive. Dutton said they placed everyone in that inmate’s living area, called a “pod,” on quarantine for 14 days. He said they determined the inmate who tested positive did not need to be placed somewhere else.

“The people that were in the pod have already been exposed to the inmate who had it, so having just one separate one is not going to work,” said Dutton.

Dutton said the inmate had been in the jail for some time. He said, to his knowledge, the inmate did not show symptoms.

The sheriff’s office is still waiting on other test results, which should be processed within the next two days. They are not yet releasing the number of negative tests.

As of Thursday morning, there were 105 inmates in the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center. Dutton said a third of those inmates have refused COVID testing.

“Without a court order, we can’t demand that they submit to a test,” he said.

Dutton said they will closely monitor inmates for symptoms, particularly if they have not been tested. He believes all the inmates in the quarantined pod have agreed to be tested.

In response to these positive cases, Dutton said he will ask judges to conduct hearings with inmates by video whenever possible.

The sheriff’s office has already limited the number of people they take into custody to reduce the chance of bringing the coronavirus into the jail. Currently, they are only arresting people when they are charged with a felony, when it is required by law in a misdemeanor case and in some cases when someone has an active warrant.

Inmates and staff have their temperature checked and go through an evaluation for COVID-19 risk whenever they enter the detention center.

Dutton said leaders had already made changes to reduce COVID risk in the jail, even before the positive cases. They have expanded their cleaning efforts. In addition, all detention officers are now wearing N95 masks instead of cloth masks – a change Dutton said Lewis and Clark Public Health urged them to make.

“As before, we’ve offered masks to inmates, and we’ve offered masks again,” Dutton said. “A lot of them are not taking them, some are.”

This story has been updated. Original post below:

On Tuesday, September 22, the Sheriff’s Office was notified that a detention officer in the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19. All staff and inmates have now been tested for COVID-19.

As a result of this testing, we were notified on the evening of Wednesday, September 23, that an inmate had tested positive for COVID-19. The inmate, along with the entire pod, has been placed on quarantine (lock down).

They are still waiting on some test results. Some inmates at the facility have been reluctant to be tested (33%).

The center recently made some changes in protocols, including having the detention officers wear N95 masks. They have them available for inmates and are requesting they wear them as well, although some are choosing not to.

Lewis and Clark Public Health is participating in the response and conducting contact tracing.