COVID cases surge in Multnomah County jails
Multnomah County's detention centers are experiencing a sharp spike in cases of COVID-19.
In a Thursday, Jan. 20, post on the county's website, officials said 56 cases were reported among adults in custody at the county's Inverness Jail in Northeast Portland in January, compared to zero cases reported in December.
Since Thursday, 20 additional cases have been reported at the jail, bringing the total to 76, said Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, spokesperson for the county, in an email Monday, afternoon, Jan. 24. The first case was reported on Jan. 9, she said.
Eleven cases among adults in custody have been reported at the Multnomah County Detention Center in downtown Portland this month, compared to four in December, officials say.
Additionally, there have been 40 cases reported among staff at the Detention Center, and 13 staff cases at the Inverness Jail, in December and January, Sullivan-Springhetti said.
"The cases, however, appear to be mostly mild," officials said, adding that no one has been hospitalized since December. There have been no deaths attributed to the pandemic at the county's detention centers since the beginning of the pandemic.
The number of cases reported this month at the Inverness Jail amounts to more than 17% of the jail's current 439-person in-custody population. People are booked and released on a daily basis, however.
Jails across the country have tried to reduce their in-custody populations since the beginning of the pandemic to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The current in-custody population at Multnomah County's detention facilities is 68% of full capacity, Sullivan Springhetti said.
"Public Health is working closely with Corrections Health and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office to lower the risk of COVID transmission in a setting with multiple constraints," officials said. "These include screening for symptoms of COVID at booking and daily during the first 10 days of incarceration; offering rapid tests for anyone in quarantined housing areas who asks or exhibits symptoms, offering the highest quality masks that can comfortably be worn by adults in custody, and ongoing work on staff availability and physical space."
Asked whether people in custody are offered COVID-19 tests at booking, Sullivan Springhetti said, "Testing of asymptomatic individuals with no known exposure has not been recommended by Public Health.
"Multnomah County Sheriff's Office procedure requires a quarantine period when a newly booked individual is assigned long-term housing prior to being placed in a group dorm, such as those at Inverness Jail, to reduce risk of transmission, particularly when a person is asymptomatic," she continued.
Corrections health officials continue to regularly offer all adults and youths in custody vaccines, officials said, adding that vaccination offers the best protection from serious illness.
The Inverness Jail has experienced multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
In April 2021, 15 people who were infected while they were jailed at the facility sued the county and Sheriff Mike Reese, alleging the county failed to take proper safety precautions, including denying COVID-19 testing and mixing infected inmates and guards with those who were healthy.
The county also has experienced a surge in cases among staff in the Juvenile Services Division.
On Jan. 21, the county was notified of the 23rd juvenile services employee who had tested positive for COVID-19 since mid-December.
The surge in cases at county detention facilities comes as the omicron variant has led to the highest COVID-19 case counts in Oregon since the beginning of the pandemic.
There was a nearly 1,300% increase in cases reported to Multnomah County between the week of Dec. 5 and the week of Jan. 9.
"Omicron is a variant that spreads faster than the COVID-19 strains than Multnomah County Public Health saw in 2020 and 2021, and officials are seeing that rapid spread in the community and wherever people live together in congregate settings," officials said, noting that public health staff were responding to 248 outbreaks in congregate settings such as long-term care facilities. In 194 of those settings, there were multiple reported cases.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that additional cases of COVID-19 were reported at the county's detention facilities between Jan. 20 and Jan. 24.
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