Multnomah County tamps down coronavirus concerns at youth facility
Multnomah County officials say they believe the spread of COVID-19 at a program affiliated with the Donald E. Long Detention Center in Northeast Portland has been contained.
The county Department of Community Justice announced Oct. 1 that it is shutting down a short-term residential program located at the juvenile detention complex as of Oct. 2, after two Juvenile Services Division employees tested positive for COVID-19. Six youths enrolled in the program will be sent home to their families.
Citing privacy concerns, county public information staff declined to say whether or how many youths have tested positive for coronavirus. Only the six youths in the Assessment and Evaluation Program — known as "A&E" — were offered tests, officials confirmed. Those located in the detention area of Donald E. Long, which on average houses 34 youths, were not offered testing.
"There are separate entrances and the programs don't interact," wrote communications coordinator Jessica Morkert-Shibley in an email. "We follow public health guidance, and public health determined there was no exposure to youths in detention and no further action was indicated."
Internally, however, managers sought to tamp down concern among workers in the detention hall. Due to short staffing, some A&E workers at times have worked in detention, and employees in the two programs sometimes eat together and use the same gym.
"We recognize the concern and need for more information regarding staff/youth who have been tested," Tracey Freeman, a senior manager in probation and treatment services, wrote to Donald E. Long employees in an email. "However we do not share health information of minors. Public Health has all relevant information to guide a response."
In addition to community justice employees, medical staff, mental health counselors, janitors, kitchen staff and teachers from the Multnomah Education Services District also work at the juvenile justice complex.
The community justice department website describes the A & E Program as voluntary and providing "temporary structure, stabilization and treatment readiness for youth who require a staff-secured, out-of-home placement. … The goal for this program is to provide a safe place where youths can quickly enter and begin receiving services while those working with the youth and family can make longer-term plans for the youth."
According to the county spokeswoman, Morkert-Shibley: "Since the beginning of COVID-19, we have had a plan in place on what to do if a case emerged in a youth detention facility or program and we are now executing that plan. For everyone's safety, we closed the Assessment & Evaluation program. ... Six youth are returning to their homes. We're working with the youth's support systems and youth will continue to have access to services."
In late August the county reported that a "community partner" who worked at the complex tested positive for COVID-19, but declined to provide details of their employer.
Many employees at the center are members of Local 88 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. A leader of the local, Celeste Jones, wrote in an email that "due to outbreak being limited to the A&E and no other unit, our union supports the decision of temporarily closing the unit and to continue to require staff to make an health attestation prior to each shift. ... Staff have the option to be tested through the county's critical services testing program with Providence or through their medical provider. While Local 88 would like for there to be more transparency when an employee tests positive for COVID19, (federal privacy) rules do limit the amount of specific information that can be shared."
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