Following a confirmed diagnosis of novel coronavirus earlier this month at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, Executive Director Dennis Sullivan said every precaution is being taken at the facility to prevent spread of the virus.
An unidentified staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 14. The staff member will recover at home for at least two weeks, and will be permitted to return after being symptom-free for 72 hours.
Security footage from the facility identified a number of individuals the infected staff member came in contact with within six feet for 10 minutes. They were notified immediately, and all will be off work at least two weeks, according to their symptoms. Sullivan said he’s not aware of their current status but to his knowledge none have been hospitalized.
“We’re very fortunate that we’re in a correctional facility and we have cameras throughout the entire facility,” he said.
Since March 11, when CCNO was closed to the public, the facility has followed coronavirus protocol set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Williams County Health Department. That includes establishing social distancing when possible, frequent sanitizing, and the option of cloth masks for the 180 staff members and 535 inmates, including 37 from Fulton County.
Only necessary visitors are allowed entrance, and not before their temperatures are taken. “No one gets in without monitoring,” Sullivan said.
New inmates are quarantined from the rest of the population for their first two weeks in a dorm area specifically created for isolation and completely sanitized between its uses. Their temperatures are taken three times daily.
Six-foot distancing is a regular practice between staff and inmates, and the incarcerated are asked by staff to step back during pat-downs. The temperatures of inmates in the regular population are taken once a day, and floors are marked with six-foot distancing reminders.
Sullivan concedes that social distancing is challenging in a facility where staff members are considered emergency responders. “Sometimes, that’s impossible in this job. You can’t do it all the time,” he said.
Inmates would be tested for coronavirus only if they’re symptomatic, he added. Their common areas and individual units are sanitized with a bleach and water mix three times each day, once per staff shift.
Many inmates wear the cloth masks made specifically for them and in accordance with CDC standards, although it’s not a CDC requirement. Sullivan said they agree to wear masks when they leave CCNO for court appearances and medical appointments.
Inmate training and work programs have been suspended. Area courts have been asked to consider electronic monitoring and GPS sentencing to reduce the number of new bookings.
Extra soap has been provided in restrooms, and inmates have access to CDC videos regarding hygiene and social distancing. They’re encouraged to wash their hands frequently.
“For the most part, they’ve been very cooperative,” Sullivan said. “We’re doing all kinds of things to try to keep things clean and sanitized. We will follow what the CDC says. We’re trying to take all precautions to make sure we don’t get the inmates sick. There’s always anxiety for staff and inmates, so they’re very appreciative.”
Despite the precautions, Sullivan is not surprised by the staff member’s diagnosis. “It’s a virus. People are going to get sick, and there’s nothing we can do about it except take care of them and hope for the best,” he said.
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, as of Sunday, 2,400 state inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.
Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp said CCNO is considered an essential operation by the state, with no alternative to the service offered. “I think they’re taking the steps they can, given the environment,” she said. “By nature of those close quarters and the environment, it’s a matter of being vigilant. It’s important that they’re doing all those steps.”
The staff and the inmates actually enjoy and appreciate the extra cleaning efforts, Sullivan said. “The staff and the inmates actually like the feeling of clean. They want to continue to do it even after this pandemic is over. It’s something we’re going to continue to do.”
Visits with family and friends have continued via online platforms. Inmates have access to sessions through a computer tablet system initiated a year ago – one device for every three inmates is available – and designed typically for access to the facility’s law library, to newspapers, and to books. Operated through CCNO’s phone services, the tablets are not funded by the facility or taxpayers.
In some cases, attorneys and law enforcement officers who require face-to-face interaction have met with inmates through the facility’s windows.
Sullivan said while the novel coronavirus is presenting multiple challenges to CCNO’s operation, staff and inmates are adapting surprisingly well. He said he looks forward to the resumption of normal operations, but until then the facility will do what is important and necessary to keep everyone healthy.
“It’s business as usual,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.