HEFLIN — No inmates or staff at the Cleburne County Law Enforcement Center in Heflin have shown any symptoms of COVID-19 and Lane Kilgore, jail administrator, hopes it stays that way.
Starting last week, jail staff enacted a number of protocols to stop the coronavirus from entering the facility, Kilgore said on Thursday.
“We’re going by the recommendations of our medical director. We use Quality Correctional Healthcare and they’ve provided us with a new screening sheet,” Kilgore said. That screening sheet is in addition to a whole page of other medical questions inmates fill out when they are processed into the jail, Kilgore said.
One of the protocols is the use of masks on inmates exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus — fever, cough, shortness of breath — but the masks are in short supply according to Kilgore.
“The personal protection equipment is lacking with deputies and jailers, not just here but everywhere,” said Kilgore.
Kilgore said that he belongs to a new group, Alabama Jail Administrators’ Council, which met four weeks ago in Cullman, and the coronavirus situation was a hot topic of discussion.
“So four weeks ago I immediately started trying to buy masks, additional sanitizers, things I thought we might need. Even then we were not able to order any masks, we have been able to purchase additional sanitizers,” Kilgore said. “All of our suppliers are out now, so what we’ve got is all we’ve got.”
He said the jail staff has been “working on this for almost a month trying to get ready.”
An order of gloves was delivered to the jail yesterday, but now that supplier is out of stock, said Kilgore, noting that it’s difficult to manage the supplies the Sheriff’s Office has left.
“If we knew a definite cutoff date we would know if we had enough supplies or not, if this goes on for weeks or months, sooner or later the supply chain will catch up,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore said the jail is divided into six pods and the inmate count on Thursday was 73.
“We’re trying to make extra efforts to keep up with inmate movements so if we do get a case in one pod we can isolate it to that one pod and not affect the other five,” said Kilgore.
Other changes at the jail to minimize COVID-19 from entering the facility include shutting down the work release program, prohibiting all contact visits, and canceling Bible studies and church services until further notice.
Beginning last weekend inmates could receive visitors only in a room with a glass divider to minimize any possible transmission of the virus.
Kilgore said that the closest thing that he can compare the COVID-19 to is the H1N1 flu in 2009.
“It was the flu, so everyone had some sort of immunity to fight it off even if you got it. This coronavirus is brand new and it’s the unknown, that’s what’s driving the empty grocery stores, the draconian measures, people just have never seen anything like this,” said Kilgore.
Kilgore said that all staff and employees have been told to not report to work if they have a fever but added that the coronavirus displays no symptoms for five days.
“You can spread it beforehand, it’s like trying to contain the wind,” said Kilgore.
Calhoun County: Quarantine is possible
Matthew Wade, Calhoun County Sheriff, makes no distinction between inmates, correctional officers, staff and deputies when it comes to working together for the common good.
“We’re all in this together...we all have a vested interest in keeping each other well,” Wade said by phone Thursday afternoon.
Wade said that the jail has a coronavirus screening sheet that inmates must fill out upon arrival.
“When someone comes to our jail the first thing they do is get screened and if they meet any of the criteria they are carried directly to a nurse and the nurse does the medical screening,” said Wade.
The nurse determines whether the individual is carried to the hospital or put in a quarantine room at the jail. Wade said the quarantine room has its own HVAC system which does not circulate with the rest of the building.
“We’re putting people in there that meet the criteria or need to be quarantined,” said Wade.
Wade said that coronavirus test kits are on order and there is plenty of personal protective equipment on hand when and if needed.
Wade said the Center for Domestic Preparedness visited the jail on Thursday and trained one half of the staff on how to protect oneself and deal with people who are possibly infected or exposed to the COVID-19.
The other half of the staff will be trained Friday morning.
Wade said the jail smells so clean that inmates have been telling their family members about it.
“We’re cleaning 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week...we’re giving disinfectant wipes to inmates, we’re wiping off door knobs, handles and tables and using disinfectant around the clock,” Wade said.
“We’re not letting the cleaner set on the shelves,” said Wade.
“We care about the inmates and we care about ourselves because we are out there working with them, being exposed to each other,” said Wade.
Visitation for inmates remains unchanged because there are no direct visits. All visitation has already been done by video monitors or through online applications according to Wade.
Wade said that the Sheriff’s Office is not stopping any calls or service.
“We’re going to stand tall during this to make sure everybody knows this will be ok,” said Wade.
Wade said the jail has plenty of food and medicine on hand and does not expect any shortages.
“The sheriff here is open for business,” said Wade.